House Democrats on Wednesday passed a massive $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill with the goal of having it on President Joe Biden’s desk by the end of the week, just days before key federal unemployment benefits start to expire for many workers on March 14.
By a 220-211 vote — with no Republicans voting in favor — Democrats handed Biden a crucial first legislative victory. The White House said he would sign the measure into law on Friday.
“For weeks now, an overwhelming percentage of Americans – Democrats, Independents, and Republicans – have made it clear they support the American Rescue Plan. Today, with final passage in the House of Representatives, their voice has been heard,” Biden said in a statement praising House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who spoke on the House floor just before the vote.
“Today, we have a decision to make of tremendous, tremendous consequence. A decision that will make a difference for millions of Americans, saving lives and livelihoods. And with all of the decisions, it is a decision that we will have to answer for,” she said. “We will give the American Rescue Plan a resounding and hopefully bipartisan vote to reflect the bipartisan support that it has in the country.”
“And we will get to work immediately to deliver lifesaving resources springing from this bill as soon as it is passed and signed. As we join President Biden in the promise, in his promise that at last, help is on the way. For the people, for the children, I urge a ‘yes’ vote,” she said.
One Democrat joined Republicans in voting against the measure. Rep. Jared Golden of Maine had cited concerns about the cost and scope of the legislation.
Just after the measure was approved, top House and Senate Democratic leaders gathered on the west terrace of the Capitol building to enroll the behemoth piece of legislation.
Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer formally signed the bill with the National Mall providing the backdrop.
“This is a momentous day in the history of our country because we have passed historic, consequential, and transformative legislation,” Pelosi said.
“Help is on the way!” Schumer exclaimed multiple times from the podium.
The final vote was delayed when GOP Rep. Majorie Taylor Greene forced a vote on a motion to adjourn, which was soundly defeated.
House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., told reporters Tuesday he was “110% confident” his party had the votes to approve the plan without any GOP support.
Republicans took issue with the price tag and billions going to what they called unrelated items on the Democrats’ “wish list.”
“It’s a real tragedy when you look at that package, we know that the results of that package are going to be middle-class tax increases, we know for sure that it includes provisions that are not targeted, they’re not temporary, they’re not related to COVID, and it didn’t have to be this way,” House GOP Conference Chair Liz Cheney said Tuesday.
“We could have had a bill that was a fraction of the cost of this one that could have gotten bipartisan approval and support, but the speaker decided to go in another direction. We are going to be saddled with a burden, a spending burden, and a tax burden that is really indefensible from the perspective of what it actually accomplishes,” Cheney said.
“I feel sad for them that they are so oblivious to meeting the needs of the American people and oblivious to the support that this bill has among Republicans across the country,” Pelosi said Monday.
The legislation originally cleared the House at the end of February, but the chamber had to pass the bill again after changes were made in the Senate.
The bill would send $1,400 stimulus checks to individuals making $75,000 or less and to couples earning up to $150,000. The Senate’s version of the bill narrowed eligibility for the stimulus checks. The payments would phase out for those earning more than $80,000. That means many who qualified for earlier rounds of relief payments won’t be receiving one this time around.
Democratic leaders were also forced to trim back weekly jobless benefits to $300 from $400 with the federal boost through Sept. 6. The first $10,200 of income for those jobless Americans making under $150,000 would be tax-free.
The bill also includes a child tax credit that gives families $3,000 per child per year.
The legislation also sends $350 billion to state, local and tribal governments, $50 billion for contact tracing, $16 billion for vaccine distribution, $130 billion for K-12 education, funds for rental and mortgage assistance, support for restaurants and bars, funding for nutrition programs and more.
The White House has previously said Americans who qualify for the stimulus checks should see payments hit their accounts before the end of the month.
On Thursday, Biden will make his first primetime address “to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 shutdown,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki announced during a briefing Monday.
“He will discuss the many sacrifices the American people have made over the last year and the grave loss communities and families have suffered. The president will look forward, highlighting the role that Americans will play in beating the virus and getting the country back to normal,” Psaki said.