President Joe Biden scored his first legislative win as the House of Representatives passed his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package early Saturday, though Democrats face challenges to their hopes of using the bill to raise the minimum wage, Reuters reported.
Democrats who control the chamber passed the sweeping measure by a mostly party-line vote of 219 to 212 and sent it on to the Senate, where Democrats planned a legislative maneuver to allow them to pass it without the support of Republicans.
The American Rescue Plan would pay for vaccines and medical supplies and send a new round of emergency financial aid to households, small businesses and state and local governments. The bill’s big-ticket items include $1,400 direct payments to individuals, a $400-per-week federal unemployment benefit through Aug. 29, and help for those in difficulty paying rents and home mortgages during the pandemic.
In brief remarks on Saturday from the White House’s Roosevelt Room, Biden said he called House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to thank her for her support and urged the Senate to take up the bill quickly.
“I hope it will receive quick action. We have no time to waste,” Biden said, without taking questions. “The people of this country have suffered far too much for far too long.”
Democrats said the package was needed to fight a pandemic that has killed more than 500,000 Americans and thrown millions out of work.
“The American people need to know that their government is there for them,” Pelosi said in a debate on the House floor.
Republicans, who have broadly backed previous COVID-19 spending, said much of the current package was not necessary, highlighting elements such as a subway near Pelosi’s San Francisco district. Only 9% of the total would go directly toward fighting the virus, they said.
“It just throws out money without accountability,” House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said.
Democrats pointed to a recent Quinnipiac University poll showing 68% of Americans supported the package, including 47% of Republicans, with just 37% of Republicans opposing it.
“This critical legislation has support from Americans across the country and the political spectrum, and yet Republicans in Congress are trying to stand in the way,” said Jamie Harrison, chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
The House vote amounted to a successful first test for Democrats, who hold a narrow 221-211 majority in the chamber. Progressives and moderates in the party who are often at odds will face tougher battles ahead on immigration and climate change initiatives that Biden wants to push.
The President has focused his first weeks in office on tackling the greatest U.S. public health crisis in a century, which has upended most aspects of American life.