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House passes $1.9 trillion COVID relief package, clearing it for Biden to sign

The House of Representatives passed a sweeping $1.9 trillion economic package intended to offset the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, giving President Joe Biden the first big political victory of his administration.

The bill will now head to the White House for Biden’s signature. The House vote was an almost entirely party-line 220 to 211, similar to the 50-49 vote by which the measure passed the Senate Saturday. No House Republicans voted for the bill, while just one Democrat — Jared Golden of Maine — voted against it.

Democrats touted the bill as both necessary to help Americans hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic that’s claimed more than half a million lives in the past year and an anti-poverty measure. Republicans said it is bloated with unneeded spending just as the economy is set to surge with states lifting pandemic restrictions and the pace of vaccinations ramping up.

“Today, we have a real opportunity for change,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, who noted the pandemic’s anniversary and the millions of Americans who remain unemployed.

“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 American families,” said House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, also of California.

See: The economy is ready to rip after stimulus and faster coronavirus vaccinations

And read: What do Republican voters think of Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill? Their views may surprise you

The biggest parts of the bill are similar to past packages negotiated between congressional Democrats and then-President Donald Trump in 2020 after the economy shut down in the spring.

Households would be able to receive direct payments, at $1,400 per eligible family member with a phaseout starting at incomes of $75,000 for individuals. State, local and tribal governments would receive $350 billion in federal aid. Another $7.25 billion would be added to the Paycheck Protection Program for loans to small businesses.

Read: Here’s who will get the $1,400 stimulus checks

And see: Airlines, restaurants, pensions among the stimulus-package winners

But other elements are new and some controversial. The package includes money to ramp up vaccination efforts and keep an eye out for new strains of the virus, which has bipartisan support. It has a one-year expanded child tax credit that proponents say will help cut the number of children raised in poverty sharply.

Now see: The stimulus money isn’t going to be spent, Bank of America says, so here are the investment moves to make

But it also has more than $80 billion to help bail out underfunded pensions and money to help schools reopen and make in-person classes safer but that won’t be fully spent for years to come.

“Democrats inherited a turning tide. The vaccine trends and economic trends were in place before this bill was ever voted on; before this president was sworn in. But they’re determined to push to the front of the parade with this effort to push America to the left,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday.

The bill comes as the economy has appeared to recover from many of the wounds inflicted by the initial lockdown last spring but with the fruits of that rebound shared unequally.

The unemployment rate dropped to 6.2% in February and U.S. nonfarm payrolls grew by a healthy 379,000. But the jobless rate for Black workers, at 9.9 percent, was well above that of white workers, at 5.6%. And 4.1 million workers were classified as long-term unemployed, having been without a job for 27 weeks or more.

While Democrats touted the bill’s anti-coronavirus provisions, they also have not shied away from embracing it as a progressive measure, with Pelosi comparing it to 2010 health care overhaul in its reach. “This is definitely on a par with that, if not to exceed it, in terms of its impact on many more poor people in our country,”  she said.

One of the provisions favored by liberals, the temporarily expanded child tax credit, was estimated to cost almost $110 billion. Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal said Tuesday he wants to see the program made permanent, which could be costly.

Read: ‘One of the largest anti-poverty bills in recent history’ — what the $1.9 trillion COVID bill means for families with kids

The bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimated Congress has approved about $4.1 trillion in relief since the pandemic began, with about $3.1 trillion already spent or committed as of February, not counting the new $1.9 trillion stimulus bill.

Pelosi, asked Tuesday if the stimulus would be the last pandemic aid bill now that there were signs the outbreak had crested, said it would depend on the virus.

“It mutates. It has variants. And so, too, must we be resourceful and resilient in how we deal with it, but we will be on top of it,” she said.

Robert Schroeder contributed to this story.

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