House approves $1.9T COVID-19 relief in partisan vote

The House on Wednesday approved President Biden’s sweeping $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package in a starkly partisan 220-211 vote, sending the legislation to the White House and clinching Democrats’ first big legislative victory in the Biden era.

No Republican lawmakers backed the legislation, which will become law as much of the nation marks one year of lockdowns from the COVID-19 era. Just one Democrat, Rep. Jared Golden (Maine), opposed the measure.

Biden has said he will sign the measure as soon as it reaches his desk, with the White House saying he’s expected to sign it on Friday. The president is set to address the nation Thursday evening on the coronavirus pandemic. 

The legislation was approved amid a wave of good news on the economy and the battle against the coronavirus. 

After a year of masks and social distancing — and political fights over those restrictions to life — nearly 20 percent of the country’s population has now had at least one dose of a vaccine, and Biden on Wednesday is set to announce a new deal that will result in the delivery of 100 million more doses of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

A new report released Wednesday showed inflation is remaining low as economists expect growth to increase as more of the population is vaccinated and lockdowns are lifted.

Biden has said the U.S. will have enough vaccine for every U.S. adult by the end of May, and Democrats are hoping the new relief will give them a boost as they seek to show voters they can govern. Polls have shown the measure, which will provide $1,400 checks to millions of qualifying households, is broadly popular.

Unlike previous relief measures enacted last year, Democrats opted this time to forgo attempts at negotiating with Republicans and pushed the relief package through Congress along party lines using the budget reconciliation process that allowed them to evade a Senate GOP filibuster.

Republicans argue the use of a process dodging the filibuster shows Biden wasn’t serious about bringing unity, and House GOP lawmakers on Wednesday warned of the bill’s total cost.

But Democrats think Republicans will pay for their opposition to the popular bill. They argued on Wednesday that Republicans in the House would oppose anything Biden proposed.

“Now, the president’s different and we don’t want to give him any credit. And so we’re going to cut off the nose of the American people to spite the face of America,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said of Republicans. 

House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) at one point in the debate said Republicans describing the bill as socialism would describe a Democratic pot luck the same way. 

Democrats did have some differences within their party over the legislation.

Senate centrists pushed a number of key changes to the House-passed bill to the frustration of progressives, including keeping the weekly unemployment insurance supplemental payments at the current $300 instead of increasing them to $400 as under the initial House bill.

Unemployment insurance payments will run through Sept. 6, and up to $10,200 of the benefits will be exempt from taxes.

Opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and other centrists scuttled language for a $15 federal minimum wage, as did a negative ruling from the Senate parliamentarian. 

Changes made by the Senate also lowered the income eligibility for stimulus checks. Individuals making $75,000 or less will still qualify for the full $1,400, but the payments will phase out for people making up to $80,000. Under the two previous rounds of stimulus checks, individuals making between $75,000 and $100,000 were still eligible for partial payments.

While the stimulus checks and unemployment insurance boost are temporary measures, some Democrats are already discussing making the bill’s expansion of the child tax credit a permanent change as a way to reduce child poverty.

The package increases the child tax credit to $3,000 per child, or $3,600 for children under the age of six. Expansion of the child tax credit only runs into next year, meaning that Congress would have to renew it. 

The $1.9 trillion legislation also includes funding for a vast array of efforts to contain the pandemic and provide aid for entities hit hardest by virus-imposed lifestyle changes.

The funding ranges from more than $125 billion to help K-12 schools reopen for in-person classes; $48 billion for COVID-19 testing and tracing; $7.5 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine distribution efforts; $21.5 billion for rental assistance; $30 billion for local subway and bus systems and $8 billion for airports that have faced drastically reduced demand as fewer people travel regularly; and $28.6 billion for the restaurant industry.

Golden, a centrist who represents a swing district in the House, said he disagreed with some of the changes made by the Senate, like the $15 minimum wage and unemployment insurance benefits.

“While the Senate made modest changes to the legislation, some of those changes undermined parts of the bill I do support, and others were insufficient to address my concerns with the overall size and scope of the bill,” Golden said in a statement.

Republicans dismissed the package as overly partisan and full of provisions that weren’t necessary for defeating the pandemic. For example, they’ve pointed to the $270 million for the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, which was included to help arts and cultural organizations grapple with layoffs and budget cuts caused by the pandemic. 

“Let’s be clear: This isn’t a rescue bill. It isn’t a relief bill. It’s a laundry list of left-wing priorities that predate the pandemic and do not meet the needs of the American families,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). 

Wednesday’s vote was slightly delayed by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) forcing an unexpected vote on a motion to adjourn — a dilatory tactic she has turned to almost daily in recent days since Democrats and some Republicans voted to boot her from committees last month.

Some Democrats predicted that Republicans voting against the bill would eventually try to take credit for the aid to their communities, something Pelosi had floated on Tuesday.

“I quite frankly think it’s unconscionable that they are doing everything they can to try to, again, delay getting aid to the people, including their constituents who are in desperate need. And I have a prediction. The same people that are objecting and trying to delay this process, will be the first ones in line at the press conferences to announce the money for their cities and towns and for struggling families,” said House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.).

Tags $15 minimum wage Budget Coronavirus COVID-10 Joe Biden Joe Manchin John Yarmuth Kevin McCarthy Steny Hoyer Unemployment benefits

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