This week: Congress set to send $1.9 trillion coronavirus bill to Biden
Democrats are poised this week to send a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill to President Biden’s desk, netting the party its first legislative victory since taking over both Congress and the White House.
The House is set to vote on the bill Tuesday, after the Senate passed it Saturday at the end of a marathon session that lasted more than 24 hours.
“On Tuesday, the House will consider the Senate’s amended version of the American Rescue Plan, so that we can send this bill to President Biden for his signature early next week,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD.) said in a statement.
“Democrats are delivering on our promise to take action to defeat this virus and provide the assistance the American people need until our economy can reopen safely and fully,” he added.
The House initially passed the coronavirus bill on Feb. 27. But the Senate swapped in its own legislation, which while largely mirroring the House bill, included several changes to key components of the coronavirus legislation.
The Senate stripped out language increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour after the parliamentarian advised that it did not comply with reconciliation, the process Democrats used to bypass the 60-vote legislative filibuster in the Senate.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) forced a vote on Friday to try to add the provision back into the bill. But it fell well short of the 60 votes needed, with eight Democratic senators voting against it, underscoring the uphill path for Democrats and Biden to make good on their campaign promise.
Senate Democrats also changed the unemployment payments from $400 per week until late August to $300 per week until Sept. 6, which will require Congress to return early from the August recess in order to meet the deadline.
In addition to lowering the weekly payment, Democrats included language to make $10,200 of unemployment payments from 2020 exempt from federal income taxes for households who make up to $150,000.
They also lowered the cutoffs for receiving a stimulus check. Under the Senate-passed bill, individuals who make up to $75,000 and couples who make up to $150,000 get a $1,400 check. But the Senate changed the eligibility for receiving a check for a smaller amount from $99,000 to $80,000 for individuals and from $200,000 to $160,000 for couples.
The Biden administration endorsed the Senate bill, calling it a “giant step” toward Democrats’ promise of delivering sweeping coronavirus relief if given the White House and majorities in both the House and Senate.
“I want to thank all of the senators who worked so hard to reach a compromise to do the right thing for the American people during this crisis and voted to pass the American Rescue Plan. It obviously wasn’t easy, it wasn’t always pretty, but it was so desperately needed — urgently needed,” Biden said during a press conference over the weekend.
Biden was involved in breaking an hours-long stalemate on Friday that kept the Senate stuck in limbo as Democrats tried to strike a deal on the unemployment language that could win over Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).
The Senate changes were being watched closely by the House, where progressives were wary that the 50-50 margin could result in the legislation being watered down beyond removing the minimum wage language, which was widely expected after the parliamentarian’s ruling.
Biden brushed off the changes, arguing that the bill was largely the same.
“The compromises were all compromises that didn’t affect the substance and the essence of what the bill is. … The end result is essentially about the same,” Biden said.
In a win for Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the Progressive Caucus quickly endorsed the Senate-passed bill while pledging to continue to push to raise the minimum wage.
“The American Rescue Plan is a bold package that delivers on its promise to put money directly in people’s pockets & decisively crush the pandemic. Unlike the response to the Great Recession, this $1.9 trillion bill will deliver desperately needed aid and jumpstart our economy,” Congressional Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said in a statement.
The House is slated to take up the Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2021, which aims to extend the amount of time federal investigators have to perform background checks for firearm purchases and to close the “Charleston loophole.”
Under the legislation — which was recently reintroduced by House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) — the review period to conduct a background check for a firearm purchase would be lengthened from the current three days to 10 days.
“A large majority of Americans, including gun owners, support universal background checks. This legislation is needed to keep weapons out of the hands of those who should not have them and save lives,” the South Carolina Democrat said in a statement.
Cylburn first introduced the bill in the wake of the 2015 shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., where a white supremacist murdered nine Black parishioners.
The lower chamber passed the bill in 2019, but it was not taken up in the then GOP-controlled upper chamber.
For the bill to pass the Senate, Democrats would need to garner the support of 10 GOP lawmakers.
The House is also expected to move on the Bipartisan Background Checks Act — spearheaded by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) — which looks to “utilize the current background checks process in the United States to ensure individuals prohibited from gun possession are not able to obtain firearms.”
The bill would implement new background check requirements for those looking to transfer the possession of firearms between private parties. Under the legislation, “a licensed gun dealer, manufacturer, or importer” would first take possession of the gun while a background check is being conducted.
The legislation creates an exemption for transfers made as a gift between spouses.
The lower chamber is slated to take up the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, which aims to strengthen workers’ ability to unionize.
The bill — introduced by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) — would implement penalties on companies that violate labor law and would tamp down right to work laws in 27 states by blocking laws that allow employees to not pay union dues.
The legislation would also change the way workers are classified and takes strides to ensure workers aren’t denied rights due to their immigration status.
The measure is expected to receive strong pushback from a sizable number of Republicans, who argue it could place unnecessary burdens on businesses and lead to the loss of jobs.
The House passed the bill in 2020, but it was not taken up in the upper chamber.
The Senate is set to hold votes on three of Biden’s Cabinet nominees.
The Senate will hold procedural votes on two nominations on Tuesday evening: First on Rep. Marcia Fudge’s (D-Ohio) nomination to be secretary of Housing and Urban Development and then Merrick Garland’s nomination to be attorney general.
Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has also teed up Michael Regan’s nomination to be administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
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