WASHINGTON — A Congress divided along party lines approved the landmark $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill on Wednesday, as President Joe Biden and Democrats claimed a major triumph over legislation bringing together the government spending against the dual pandemic and economic crises that have upended a nation.
The House gave final congressional approval of the sweeping package in a vote close to party line 220-211 exactly seven weeks after Biden entered the White House and four days after the Senate passed the bill. law. Republicans in both houses unanimously opposed the legislation, calling it bloated, stuffed with liberal policies and heedless of signs that the crises are easing.
“Help is here” Biden tweeted moments after the roll call, which ended with applause from Democratic lawmakers. Biden said he would sign the measure on Friday.
Most notable for many Americans are the provisions providing up to $1,400 in direct payments this year to most adults and extending weekly emergency unemployment benefits by $300 through early September. But the law goes much further.
The measure responds to Democrats’ campaign promises and Biden’s initial priority of softening a punch that first hit the country a year ago. Since then, many Americans have been relegated to hermit lifestyles in their homes to avoid a disease that has killed more than 525,000 people – roughly the population of Wichita, Kansas – and plunged the economy into its deepest depths. since the Great Depression.
“Today we have a decision to make of enormous consequence”, said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, “a decision that will make a difference for millions of Americans, saving lives and livelihoods.”
For Biden and the Democrats, the bill is essentially a canvas on which they have painted their core beliefs — that government programs can benefit, not harm, millions of people and that spending huge sums on such efforts can be a cure, not a curse. The measure follows Democrats’ priorities so closely that many rank it among the best achievements of their careers, and despite their narrow majorities in Congress, there has never been any real suspense over its fate.
They have also been empowered by three dynamics: their absolute control of the White House and Congress, polls showing strong support for Biden’s approach, and a time when most voters care little that the national debt is soaring. to a $22 trillion stratospheric. Neither party seems very troubled by the rise of red ink, except when the other is using it to fund their priorities, whether Democratic spending or GOP tax cuts.
Republicans noted that they had overwhelmingly backed five previous relief bills that Congress had approved since the pandemic hit a year ago, when the divided government under then-President Donald Trump had forced the parties to negotiate. They said it only reflected Democratic goals by earmarking money for family planning programs and federal workers taking leave to deal with COVID-19 and failing to demand that schools be closed. accepting help are reopening.
“If you’re a member of the swamp, you’re doing pretty well under this bill. But for the American people, it means serious trouble immediately on the horizon,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, referring to the additional federal borrowing the measure will force.
Even so, Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker, who like all Republicans voted against the bill, touted his $29 billion for the struggling restaurant industry, tweeting that it would help them. “surviving the pandemic.” Democrats predicted this week that Republicans would do that, with Pelosi saying, “It’s typical that they vote no and take the dough.”
A prominent feature of the 628-page bill is the initiatives that make it one of the biggest federal efforts in years to help low- and middle-income families. Included are expanded tax credits over the next year for children, child care and family leave — some of them credits Democrats have signaled they would like to make permanent — as well as expenses for tenants, food programs and utility bills.
In addition to direct payments and the extension of unemployment benefits, the measure provides hundreds of billions for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, schools, state and local governments and struggling industries from airlines to theaters. concert. There are aids for farmers of color, pension systems and student borrowers, and subsidies for consumers buying health insurance and states extending Medicaid coverage to low-income people.
“Who will help? Are we saying this is all survival of the fittest? No,” said House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth, D-Ky. “We are up to the occasion. We deliver.”
The legislation would reduce the number of people living in poverty this year by about a third, from 44 million to 28 million, the liberal-leaning Urban Institute estimated on Wednesday. The child poverty rate would be more than halved, said the institute, which looked at the impact of the measure’s stimulus checks, unemployment benefits, food stamps and child tax credits. .
Representative Jared Golden of Maine was the only Democrat to oppose the measure. He said in a written statement that some of the spending in the bill was not urgent.
The measure was approved amid promising if mixed signs of recovery.
Americans are getting vaccinated at increasingly robust rates, though that’s tempered by coronavirus variants and people’s growing impatience with limiting social activities. The economy added an unexpected 379,000 jobs last month, though 9.5 million fewer remain than before the pandemic.
Republicans have said the country will pay a price for the extra spending.
“It’s certainly good policy to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to give you a check for $1,400′” said Rep. Tom Rice, RS.C. “But what they don’t talk about is what that bill costs.”
An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll found last week that 70% of Americans support Biden’s response to the virus, including 44% of Republicans. According to a CNN poll released Wednesday, the relief bill is supported by 61% of Americans, including nearly all Democrats, 58% of independents and 26% of Republicans.
Yet until November 2022, when control of the Senate and House hangs in the balance, it will be uncertain whether voters will reward Democrats, punish them or make decisions on unforeseen issues.
The bill’s path underscored challenges for Democrats as they seek to build a legislative case to please voters.
Democrats control the Senate, split 50-50, only because Vice President Kamala Harris gives them the winning vote in tie roll calls. They only have a 10 vote advantage in the House.
That’s almost no wiggle room for a party that ranges from West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin on the conservative side to progressives like New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
On the relief bill, Progressives had to swallow big concessions to solidify moderate support.
Most painful was eliminating the House-approved federal minimum wage increase to $15 an hour by 2025. The moderates also managed to cut emergency unemployment benefits, which in one version earlier were $400 a week, and to completely scrap $1,400 stimulus checks for wage earners at lower levels than originally proposed.
At some point, it seems likely that progressives will draw their own lines in the sand.