The U.S. House of Representatives set to approve a $ 1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill on Friday even as Republicans unite to oppose the president-backed measure Joe Biden.
The legislation, drafted by Democrats, aims to address the dual crisis facing the United States in the coronavirus pandemic and the economic collapse it has caused.
Called the American bailout, it’s President Biden’s first legislative priority in the first 100 days of his presidency and aims to put the United States on the path to economic growth. The bill is also due to pass in the Senate, and Democrats are pushing for final passage of the legislation in mid-March.
“We have the ability to crush this virus and get more resources where they’re needed to prevent more loss, more devastation and more economic carnage,” said Representative James McGovern.
“This is a crisis and it is an emergency,” said McGovern, the Democratic chair of the House Rules Committee, which is preparing the legislation for a House debate and vote on Friday night.
After the failure of the former Trump administration to recognize the real threat of the virus, McGovern said, “the time has come for us to understand that this is a national problem.”
The bill would provide up to $ 1,400 in direct payments to people earning less than $ 100,000 per year, extend federal unemployment benefits until August for those out of work, and provide ongoing payroll support to small businesses that struggle to survive.
The bill includes $ 350 billion in federal assistance to states and communities that have seen government revenues decline and costs rise during the pandemic.
Kindergarten to grade 12 public schools are given $ 130 billion over three years to begin reopening and recovering from closures that McKinsey & Company estimate has cost U.S. students nine months to one year learning.
The bill provides $ 30 billion in housing and rental assistance and would extend a federal moratorium on rental evictions until September, which imminent crisis on the road for about 14 million households who have not been able to keep up with the monthly payments.
The bill also extends tax credits to employers who offer workers sick leave and paid family leave.
Democrats who control Congress are using fast-track procedures under annual budgeting rules to move the spending agenda forward without Republican backing.
“Obviously, pent-up demand and the frustration of the previous administration made President Biden want to do something quickly in the midst of this virus,” said Bill Hoagland, senior vice president of the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington.
While Biden would likely have been able to forge a compromise with enough Senate Republicans to gain bipartisan support, he would have been forced to agree to a lower package of $ 1 trillion instead of $ 1.9 trillion, a Hoagland told Al Jazeera.
“He will receive the $ 1.9 trillion, but given that they used this first round as a somewhat partisan approach, it is going to make it even more difficult to achieve some of Biden’s other major goals,” Hoagland said. .
A first casualty appears to be Biden’s proposed increase in the U.S. minimum wage to $ 15 an hour by 2025, which would boost incomes by around 30 million workers nationwide. Included in the House bill, it is likely to be eliminated in the Senate.
Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema oppose the increase, and Senate procedures require a 60-vote threshold for policy changes such as raising the minimum wage, posing an additional hurdle.
Meanwhile, Republicans have lined up against the $ 1.9 trillion bill as an irresponsible overrun – the US Treasury will have to borrow money to implement the bill – and decried the fact. that Biden broke his initial promises to restore two-party politics to Washington.
“We could effectively have a bipartisan bill if it is the will of the majority and the will of President Biden to have a bill that provides temporary and emergency aid,” Rep. Patrick McHenry said, the top Republican on the House financial services committee.
Democratic Representative Frank Pallone said it was clear “from day one” that Republicans “were not going to cooperate with us” as soon as Democratic leaders decided to use budget procedures to move the bill forward. .
The massive spending program comes at a time when infections, hospitalizations and deaths in the United States from COVID-19 are on the decline after peaking in January.
The virus claimed more than 508,000 lives in the United States and vaccines began to be given to the elderly and to people with underlying health conditions.
The bill provides for an extension of the American vaccination program with mass vaccination sites to be set up across the country. It foresees an increase in testing and tracing, increased production of personal protective equipment and investments in useful treatments.
Despite Republican opposition in Washington, nearly seven in 10 Americans, or 68%, said they supported the economic stimulus package as of February 1, according to a public opinion survey of 1,075 American adults by Quinnipiac University. A 24% minority in the survey said they were against it.
Biparty majorities in Congress had already surpassed more than $ 4 trillion in COVID-19 relief spending on seven separate measures in 2020.