The U.S. House passed President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion pandemic-relief plan, spanning $1,400 stimulus checks, enhanced jobless benefits and fresh funding for vaccines and testing. Also included: a minimum-wage measure with no prospects of passing in the Senate.
The 219 to 212 House vote was a stark contrast to the previous pandemic relief bills enacted last year, which drew strong bipartisan support as the Covid-19 death toll surged. No Republicans voted in favor of the bill, while two Democrats — Jared Golden of Maine and Kurt Schrader of Oregon — voted against the measure.
The bill faces significant challenges in the Senate, after a nonpartisan official said Thursday the package can’t move forward with its provision to phase in a $15 an hour minimum wage. That ruling sent Democrats scrambling to work around Senate rules governing the fast-track budget process they’re using to pass the stimulus plan without Republican votes.
Democrats have defended the size of the bill — the sixth relief package in less than a year — as what is is needed to fight the deadly coronavirus and put the economy on firm footing. They have cited polling showing the bill is broadly popular as the dual health and economic crises hit some American communities harder than others.
“We are in a race against time,” said House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth. “Virtually everyone recognizes how critical this is, not just to stop the pandemic right now and to get us to return to normality, but to provide for the foundation for our economic recovery, which is going to take a long time.”
Millions of people are set to lose supplemental unemployment benefits on March 14, when a previous round of virus stimulus expires, setting a tight deadline for Congress to get the bill to Biden’s desk.
The legislation has no signs of Republican support in the Senate, with GOP members criticizing its scale, given a surge in government debt and signs of the economic recovery gathering pace.
“No one is arguing to do nothing — what we are saying is to target this relief. Not have a grab-bag stimulus,” said Representative Patrick McHenry, a Republican from North Carolina.