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February 27, 2021

The House of Representatives passed President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, designed to stabilize the economy and curb the spread of the coronavirus, in a 219-212 vote early Saturday morning, a major step in a complicated legislative process that will eventually allow Democrats to pass the sweeping relief bill into law over the objections of the Republican Party.

The bill includes $1,400 direct payments, expanded federal unemployment benefits of $400 per week through the end of August, a major expansion of the child tax credit, $350 billion for state and local governments, $50 billion for coronavirus testing and tracing and $130 billion for K-12 schools.

There are also billions of dollars for vaccine distribution, small business relief, rental assistance, nutrition assistance and more.

Many Republican lawmakers oppose the $1.9 trillion bill on the grounds that it is too expensive and contains provisions they view as unrelated to the coronavirus crisis, and some economists including Larry Summers, who served in the Clinton and Obama administrations, have suggested the massive spending plan could trigger dangerous inflation and cause the economy to overheat.

Biden and his advisors have consistently defended the steep price tag, arguing that big spending is necessary to ensure a robust and lasting economic recovery. 

Democrats are using a special process called budget reconciliation to advance the bill with only a simple majority of votes, meaning they’ll only need 51 votes in the Senate rather than the usual 60 required to overcome a filibuster.

The GOP has also criticized Democrats for using the reconciliation process to advance legislation Republicans oppose, characterizing the move as a betrayal of the commitments to unity and bipartisanship Biden made during his campaign (the GOP has used reconciliation for its own priorities, too, including to pass President Trump’s massive tax bill in 2017). 

76%. That’s the share of registered voters who support the $1.9 trillion stimulus package, according to a Morning Consult poll released earlier this week. 89% of Democrats said they supported the package, along with 60% of Republicans.

 “The swamp is back,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said during debate on the House floor. “Almost every one of this bill’s 592 pages includes a liberal pipe dream that predates the pandemic.”

Under reconciliation rules, the Senate must also assemble its own version of the bill. There will undoubtedly be differences between the House and Senate versions, and those differences must be reconciled before both chambers vote again on the final legislation and send it to President Biden’s desk. Democratic leaders have expressed confidence that the rescue bill will be finalized in time for Biden to sign it before the current tranche of enhanced federal unemployment funding expires on March 14, when more than 11 million workers will lose their benefits.

The bill approved by the House Saturday morning also includes a provision to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour over the next five years, but it’s not yet clear whether that provision will remain in the final package. The Senate parliamentarian, who advises that chamber on rules and procedures, determined this week that the wage hike cannot be included under reconciliation rules, which require all aspects of the legislation to have a direct impact on the federal budget. Top Democrats are already floating alternative provisions, like tax penalties for corporations that don’t pay their workers a living wage. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that lawmakers would “seek a solution consistent with Senate rules.”

 “This is a spectacular piece of legislation,” Pelosi told reporters Friday evening. “While the Senate has prevented us temporarily from passing one aspect of it, let us not be distracted from what is in here, because it is a great bill.”

Congress has passed five major pieces of relief legislation since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States. The largest of those was the $2.1 trillion CARES Act, which was signed into law by President Trump in March 2020 and authorized the first round of stimulus checks, the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses, the first round of enhanced federal unemployment benefits at $600 per week and a number of other major relief programs.