House passes $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill, sends it to Senate
- The House passed its $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, which will head to the Senate.
- Democrats in both chambers aim to have the legislation passed and to President Joe Biden's desk before March 14, when unemployment aid programs expire.
- The party is likely to pass the plan on its own, as Republicans have questioned the need for another massive spending package.
- The biggest open question is how Democrats will handle their push for a $15 per hour minimum wage after the Senate parliamentarian ruled it could not be included in their budget reconciliation bill.
The House passed its $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill early Saturday, sending the massive proposal to the Senate as Democrats rush to approve more aid before unemployment programs expire.
It is the first major legislative initiative for President Joe Biden. The House approved it in a 219-212 mostly party line vote, as two Democrats joined all Republicans in opposing it.
Senators will start considering the pandemic assistance plan next week. Lawmakers will offer amendments, and the chamber will likely pass a different version of the bill, meaning the House would have to pass the Senate's plan or the chambers would have to craft a final proposal in a conference committee.
Democrats, who hold narrow majorities in the House and Senate, opted to approve the legislation alone through budget reconciliation rather than hammer out a smaller aid package with Republicans. The process enables a bill to pass with a simple majority in the Senate.
"Now, the bill moves to the United States Senate, where I hope it will receive quick action. We have no time to waste," Biden said during a briefing on Saturday morning.
"If we act now — decisively, quickly and boldly — we can finally get ahead of this virus," Biden continued. "We can finally get our economy moving again."
The House plan includes:
- Payments of $1,400 to most individuals, along with the same amount for each dependent. Checks start to phase out at $75,000 in income and go to zero for individuals making $100,000
- A $400 per week unemployment supplement through Aug. 29, along with an extension of programs making millions more people eligible for jobless benefits
- An expansion of the child tax credit to give families up to $3,600 per child over a year
- $20 billion for Covid-19 vaccine distribution and $50 billion for testing and tracing efforts
- $350 billion in state, local and tribal government relief
- $25 billion for assistance in covering rent payments
- $170 billion for K-12 schools and higher education institutions to cover reopening costs and aid to students
- A $15 per hour federal minimum wage, which the Senate parliamentarian will not allow in the reconciliation bill on the other side of the Capitol
Democrats have called the bill necessary to speed up vaccinations — a critical step to resuming some level of pre-pandemic life — and sustain households at a time when roughly 19 million people are receiving jobless benefits.
"The time for decisive action is long overdue," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Friday night before the vote. "President Biden's American Rescue Plan is that decisive action."
Republicans questioned the need for a proposal so large, criticizing in particular the scope of the direct payments, state and local government support and school funding. Earlier Friday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., contended the legislation "isn't a relief bill" and "fails to deliver for American families."
The Biden administration and Democratic leaders in Congress said the country faces a bigger risk of doing too little than injecting too much money into the response. Some economists have also questioned the scale of the bill.
Senate Democrats face more challenges in passing the legislation than the House did. While the party can approve the bill on its own, it will need every Democrat to support it in the Senate, which is split 50-50.
Democrats also have to decide how to proceed on minimum-wage policy without losing any support. After the Senate parliamentarian ruled the bill could not include a $15 pay floor under reconciliation rules, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., have looked for a workaround to impose a tax penalty on large corporations that do not pay workers at least $15 an hour.
It is unclear if the proposal would comply with the Senate's budget restrictions.
Vice President Kamala Harris also appears set against trying to overrule parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough, which some progressives have suggested she should do.
Pelosi said earlier Friday that she believes the House will "absolutely" pass the relief bill if it comes back from the Senate without a minimum-wage increase in it. She told reporters that Democrats will try to pass the pay increase through a separate plan if needed.
"We will not rest until we pass the $15 minimum wage," she said.
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