In the early morning hours Saturday, the House of Representatives passed President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, a major step towards providing direct relief to Americans impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and enacting the president’s top early legislative priority.
The bill, which includes direct $1,400 checks to Americans, passed in a nearly party line vote – 219-212 – with two Democrats breaking ranks and voting with Republicans against the measure. No Republicans joined Democrats in voting to pass the bill, which includes direct $1,400 checks to Americans.
Democratic Reps. Kurt Schrader (D-OR) and Jared Golden (D-ME) joined the entire Republican caucus in opposing the bill, highlighting the razor-thin margins by which Democrats have to pass President Biden’s legislative agenda – a 50-50 Senate majority and 10 votes in the House.
“This is a situation that calls for bold action,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said in a statement in support of the measure. “Now is not the time for small actions or another ‘pause.’ The American Rescue Plan meets this moment. It will expand vaccines and testing. It will keep families in their homes and ensure they can put food on their table. It will help schools reopen safely, because in-person learning is essential. It will help small businesses keep their doors open. History will record who, in this moment, stood for rescue and recovery – or who for ‘pause.'”
In addition to direct stimulus checks, the bill extends federal unemployment benefits, provides direct funding to small businesses, aid to state and local governments, funding for schools, additional money for vaccine distribution, and an increase to the child tax credit.
“This is what America needs,” Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) said. “Republicans, you ought to be a part of this. But if you’re not, we’re going without you.”
“Disappointed that zero Republicans voted to provide support to Americans struggling across our country,” Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) added. “We now wait to see what happens to the bill in the Senate next week.”
Republicans criticized the measure, arguing that the bill is too expensive and lambasting it as a “liberal wish list,” to quote a phrase oft-used by House Minority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA).
“To my colleagues who say this bill is bold, I say it’s bloated,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said. “To those who say it’s urgent, I say it’s unfocused. To those who say it’s popular, I say it is entirely partisan.”
The bill now heads to the Senate, where the body’s parliamentarian ruled this week that an increase of the federal minimum wage to $15 can not be included in the relief bill. The measure would increase the federal minimum wage, which has been sitting at $7.25 since 2009, to $15 by 2025, a major policy point favored by progressives but maligned by centrists. The House’s version of the bill includes the minimum wage increase, and it is unclear how the issue will be resolved.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is considering adding an amendment to the Senate version of the bill that would penalize large companies that do not pay workers at least $15 an hour, a senior Democratic aide told The Associated Press, which is in line with policies favored by Senate Budget Chair Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Finance Committee Chair Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR).
Progressives are pushing to press on with minimum wage, in spite of the Senate parliamentarian’s ruling. “We’re going to have to reform the filibuster because we have to be able to deliver,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) said, noting the push from some progressives to amend Senate rules to eliminate the 60-vote threshold for legislation.
“We can’t tell [constituents] that this didn’t get done because of an unelected parliamentarian,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) agreed.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi insisted that they would get the $15 minimum wage increase done, calling it “a financial necessity for our families, a great stimulus for our economy and a moral imperative for our country.”
“As a matter of practice, I don’t get involved in the rules of the United States Senate,” Pelosi said, “But as a matter of values, I can just say, we will not rest until we pass the $15 minimum wage.”
“If it doesn’t prevail because of Senate rules we will persist,” Pelosi added. “But we will not stop until we very soon pass the $15 minimum wage.”
Pelosi noted that the House will “absolutely” pass a version of the bill without the minimum wage increase, citing the great need for the bill’s benefits.
Republicans have been staunch opponents of the increased minimum wage, believing that it would cost jobs and impact businesses. A study from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office found that increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 would cost the US 1.4 million jobs by 2025, but also increase wages for 17 million Americans directly and lift 900,000 Americans out of poverty.
Removal of the minimum wage hike might ultimately make the bill easier to pass, as it would likely all but guarantee the support of moderate Democrat Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), who had previously objected to including the minimum wage hike in the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill.
Democrats are pushing to pass the bill through the Senate via the budget reconciliation process, which would allow the bill to pass without Republican support, requiring just a simple majority vote. It would also allow for the bill to move faster, a crucial goal for Democrats trying to get the measure to Biden’s desk before March 14, when extended federal unemployment benefits expire.