US House passes $1.9T coronavirus relief bill along party lines
WASHINGTON (CN) — The House passed the American Rescue Plan on Wednesday afternoon in a 220-211 vote, clearing the way for $1,400 direct payments to many Americans in addition to billions of dollars for testing, tracing and other initiatives to combat Covid-19.
Maine Democrat Jared Golden was the only member of his party to vote against the package, joining all House Republicans in rejecting the bill.
The White House said President Joe Biden will sign the relief bill into law on Friday.
The $1.9 trillion bill did not exactly sail through the legislative process, hitting several snags along the way. In the Senate last week, offering amendments to the bill took more than 24 hours, with the added delay of Wisconsin GOP Senator Ron Johnson’s refusal to skip the procedural step of reading the 628-page bill in its entirety.
While Biden conceded the legislative process would change the bill’s provisions as amendments were introduced, the president himself agreed to pare back eligibility for who could receive the $1,400 stimulus checks, moving the income cap down from $100,000 to $80,000.
Senators also spent an entire day last week waiting for West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin to find an unemployment benefit plan to his liking.
Democrats ultimately agreed to keep enhanced jobless aid at an extra $300 per week instead of the proposed $400. The compromise with Manchin also shields the first $10,200 of those dollars from federal taxes. Meanwhile, senators voted to kill an amendment offered by Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.
The bill narrowly passed through the Senate on Saturday after lawmakers labored all night on a mountain of amendments. Democrats are using the budget reconciliation process to pass the relief package, lowering the Senate vote ceiling to 50 instead of the usual 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster.
Biden said in a statement after the House vote Wednesday that the legislation gives the working class “a fighting chance.”
“Now we move forward with the resources needed to vaccinate the nation. To get $1,400 in direct payments to 85% of American households. To expand coverage and help with lowering health care premiums. To give small businesses what they need to stay open. To expand unemployment insurance, provide food and nutrition assistance. To help keep a roof over people’s heads. To cut child poverty in half,” he said.
On Wednesday, House Republicans attacked the funding objectives in the bill as a Democratic wish list of projects inlayed with socialist policies. Missouri Republican Jason Smith criticized Democrats for using the partisan process of budget reconciliation to jam through what he called a radical agenda.
“They could have looked at the data coming out of the Congressional Budget Office,” Smith said. “Had they done so, they would have seen that absent any new funding the economy is projected to reach pre-pandemic levels of real GDP growth by the middle of this year.”
Kentucky Democrat John Yarmuth rebutted that assertion, saying Democrats had followed every procedural requirement of budget reconciliation and responded with the urgency demanded by the public health crisis. He noted experts have said the billions of dollars in investments in America’s public health infrastructure are what is needed to save lives and extinguish the pandemic once and for all.
“Economists have also made clear what is needed to generate a strong, inclusive economic recovery and again, we listened,” Yarmuth said. “This bill provides direct financial relief to more than 80% of American families. It helps feed hungry Americans and provides financial support so families can afford health coverage during the greatest health crisis of our lifetimes.”
Jim Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat and the House majority whip, said the transformative legislation also provides $1.6 billion to historically Black colleges and universities and gives additional funds through the Department of Agriculture to help Black farmers.
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat, said the insurrectionist attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters on Jan. 6 had failed monumentally — not only to overturn the will of the American people in the presidential election, but to prevent further economic aide during the pandemic.
“This is a rescue. The insurrectionists did not win but democracy did, and America is now to rescue them. The Democrats are on their way to give you help,” Lee said.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said from the House floor that members had to make a decision of tremendous consequence. She said the bill was reflective of priorities that brought her to Congress in the first place, including aiding food insecure families and their children.
“The Biden American Rescue Plan is about the children, their health, their education, the economic security of their families,” Pelosi said. “Our children’s health is greatly protected by crushing the virus and by expanding access to health care.”