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With Many Lawmakers Out of Town, Democratic House Quietly Weakens Paid Leave Provisions in Coronavirus Relief Bill

"This is not getting enough attention."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) shakes hands with Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) during the opening session of the 116th Congress at the US Capitol in Washington, D.C. on January 3, 2019. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

The Democrat-led House of Representatives on Monday quietly weakened paid leave provisions in a coronavirus relief bill that was already facing criticism from progressives for excluding 80 percent of the U.S. private-sector workforce.

The changes to the legislative package—formally known as the Families First Coronavirus Response Act—passed the House with unanimous consent Monday evening under the guise of "technical corrections." The bill now heads to the Republican-controlled Senate, where its prospects for passage are unclear.

The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday morning that "Democratic aides were alarmed by the changes, which were passed with no objections because House lawmakers are away from Washington [on recess]. The changes weren't shown to most lawmakers before the vote."

The new version of the bill, according to the Journal, "would still provide two weeks of sick leave to a wide swath of workers affected by the pandemic, including those who are in quarantine, caring for family members with COVID-19, and those who have children whose schools or day-care centers have closed."

"But for the next 10 weeks," the Journal noted, "paid leave would be limited only to workers caring for a child whose school or day care had been shut. Healthcare providers and emergency responders, as well as workers who had been in quarantine or caring for a family member affected by the virus, wouldn't be eligible for the additional 10 weeks of leave."

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The changes were negotiated by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. The original version that passed the House early Saturday before lawmakers left Washington for recess sparked swift backlash from the business community, which chafed at the paid leave requirements.

Earlier Monday, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) delayed passage of the changes but eventually withdrew his objections, concluding that "what are being called technical corrections make the bill better than it was when it got passed in the wee hours Saturday morning."

Progressives, along with a handful of Republican members of Congress, characterized the original legislation as woefully inadequate to provide meaningful relief for those affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

"Democrats are scaling back the paid sick leave bill that already left out 80% of workers," tweeted Max Berger, co-founder of progressive Jewish advocacy group IfNotNow. "Instead of proposing solutions as big as the crisis, it looks like they're still playing small ball."

Rev. William Barber, co-chair of the Poor People's Campaign, tweeted Tuesday that Congress "must go back and pass another bill that covers all workers."

"They cannot leave out millions by exempting some low-wage workers from paid sick leave," Barber said. "These workers will not be exempted from the disease."

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