WASHINGTON – The Democratically controlled House approved President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package early Saturday, a measure that would provide millions of Americans $1,400 payments, ramp up vaccine distribution and extend unemployment aid through the summer.
The bill, known as the American Rescue Plan, passed 219-212. No Republicans voted for it, and two Democrats voted against it: Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., and Jared Golden, D-Maine.
The measure heads to the Senate where it faces a rocky path in the evenly divided chamber.
The bill is unlikely to receive any support from Senate Republicans, who cite its size and scope, so the president would have to count on every one of the 50 Democratic senators – and a tiebreaking 51st vote from Vice President Kamala Harris – to make sure its pillars remain intact.
“It’s a great day for us to take a vote to reduce the spread of this virus … put vaccinations in the arms of the American people, money into the pockets, children into the schools, workers back into their jobs, so that we can go forward,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said before the vote. “I salute President Biden for his American Rescue Plan.”
During brief remarks at the White House Saturday, Biden said he had just called Pelosi and thanked her for her “extraordinary leadership.”
The president said the House vote moved the country “one step closer” to “vaccinating the nation,” putting “$1,400 in the pockets of Americans,” extending unemployment benefits, “getting our kids safely back in school” and “getting state and local governments the money they need.”
He urged the Senate to “take quick action” to approve his relief plan.
“We have no time to waste. If we act now, decisively, quickly and boldly, we can finally get ahead of this virus, we can finally get our economy moving again,” he said.
The bill passed by the House would:
Provide most Americans with another direct payment – this time for $1,400. (Republicans proposed $1,000).
Extend unemployment benefits through August (the current benefit ends in mid-March) and bump up the amount to $400 per week. (Republicans want $300 a week through June).
Send $350 billion to state and local governments whose revenue has declined because of COVID-19 social distancing measures (Republicans oppose any such “bailout”).
Allocate $130 billion to help fully reopen schools and colleges (Republicans countered with $50 billion).
Allot $30 billion to help renters and landlords weather economic losses (Republicans oppose any amount).
Set aside $50 billion for small-business assistance (Republicans agree).
Appropriate $160 billion for vaccine development, distribution and related needs (Republicans agree).
“I salute President Biden for his American Rescue Plan,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., says before Congress votes on the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 aid package.
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Biden and Democrats want the bill passed by mid-March, before the unemployment insurance benefits provided in an earlier relief package expire.
Republicans have lined up in opposition to the plan. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., derided the bill as a “bloated plan with unrelated policies.”
Though some Senate Republicans support elements of Biden’s proposal, they said the American Rescue Plan includes money for programs with little or no connection to the pandemic’s economic fallout. Chief among them is the $350 billion for states and local governments that GOP lawmakers call nothing but a “blue state bailout” for jurisdictions poorly managed by Democrats.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, one of the senators behind a $618 billion GOP counterproposal, said she doesn’t expect a single Republican to support the House bill, “even if we’re able to make some beneficial changes.”
“The administration has not indicated a willingness to come down from its $1.9 trillion figure, and that’s a major obstacle,” she said Tuesday.
The bill included a controversial provision to increase the national hourly minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 by 2025 that proponents said was necessary to help the country recover economically but that opponents contended would force businesses to cut back.
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Though a Pew Research poll found two-thirds of Americans back a $15 wage, Senate Republicans and at least two Democrats – Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona – oppose such an increase.
A $15 federal minimum wage won’t make it into the final bill. Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough ruled Thursday that the provision can’t be included in the COVID-19 package because it doesn’t qualify as a budgetary issue. That ruling makes it ineligible to be considered with the rest of the relief package under a budgetary process known as reconciliation by which bills can be enacted with 51 votes instead of needing the 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.
Now that a minimum wage provision looks unachievable, Senate Democrats seek another way to raise hourly wages.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., considered amending the relief package with a provision to penalize large corporations that do not pay their workers at least $15 per hour, according to a senior Democratic aide speaking on condition of anonymity, though the details of the provision were not available.
Any change in the Senate to the bill would delay relief because the measure would have to go back to the House.
Contributing: Sarah Elbeshbishi
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Joe Biden’s COVID-19 relief bill with stimulus checks passes House