President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package passed the U.S. House of Representatives and was sent to the Senate in the early hours of Saturday morning.
The questions now are when will the Senate take it up, and what will it look like once they do?
Democrats passed the package in a largely party line vote, with no Republican support despite its popularity in the polls. Two Democrats — Reps. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., and Jared Golden, D-Maine — also voted against the legislation.
“This started almost a year ago,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said of the pandemic ahead of the House vote, according to ABC News. “Today’s vote is a crucial step in our fight to defeat COVID-19.”
The massive package – the American Rescue Plan – is one of Biden’s top priorities since taking office. It includes money for schools and businesses, funding for vaccinations and testing, stimulus checks to millions of Americans and a boost in the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.
That’s one provision of the package that definitely won’t be there when the Senate submits its version. The Senate parliamentarian ruled last week the bill cannot include the minimum-wage provision.
The plan includes provide $1,400 stimulus checks to millions of Americans and extend federal unemployment benefits through August. It also includes $350 billion in aid to state and local governments; boosts funding for schools and vaccine and COVID-19 testing efforts — in addition to nutritional and child care assistance.
Republicans have argued all along that the proposal is too expensive.
“This isn’t a relief bill,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Friday, according to ABC News. “It takes care of Democrats’ political allies while it fails to deliver for American families.”
The Senate is expected to take up the package this week, but without the minimum-wage provision. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer have said they’d like to have the legislation signed into law before mid-March, when provisions for federal unemployment benefits expire.
In an effort to derive some bipartisan support, Biden met with 10 Senate Republicans last month, listening to – and then rejecting – their $600 billion alternative plan because it didn’t go far enough.
Democrats used the budget reconciliation process – which avoids the filibuster and allows the passage of a bill with simple majority support – to avoid the 60-vote threshold in the Senate, which is divided 50-50.
Ahead of the vote Friday, Pelosi said the House would pass the revised legislation even without the minimum-wage provision, and send it to the president for his signature.
“The sooner we pass the bill and it is signed, the sooner we can make the progress that this legislation is all about — saving the lives and the livelihood of the American people,” Pelosi said at a news conference Friday.
Biden spoke briefly Saturday morning from the White House, where he said he congratulated Pelosi on the passage of the bill, and then urged senators to take it up quickly.
“We have no time to waste,” Biden said. “If we act now — decisively, quickly and boldly — we can finally get ahead of this virus. We can finally get our economy moving again.”