The U.S. House of Representatives approved President Joe Biden’s $ 1.9 trillion coronavirus aid bill in a late-night vote, as Democrats who control the house steered the sweeping measure towards approval.
The bill allowed the House to vote on Saturday morning by 219 votes to 212.
This sends the measure to the Senate, where Democrats appear determined to resuscitate their pressure on the minimum wage and fights could erupt over state aid and other issues.
Previously, the House Rules Committee rejected numerous Republican attempts to change the package and sent it to the House for debate.
Democrats said the package was needed to fight a pandemic that has killed more than 500,000 Americans and thrown millions out of work, while Republicans criticized it as overpriced.
The measure would pay for vaccines and medical supplies and send a new round of emergency financial aid to households, small businesses, and state and local governments.
Democrats aimed to get Biden to sign the bill by mid-March, when improved unemployment benefits and certain other types of aid will expire.
But their path was complicated by the Senate rules expert, who said Thursday he couldn’t include a minimum wage increase to $ 15 an hour in the package.
Minimum wage debate
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had predicted the bill would pass in Congress with or without the increase, but said Democrats would not drop the issue.
“We will not stop until we adopt the minimum wage of $ 15 very soon,” she told a press conference.
Republicans who broadly backed previous COVID-19 spending said the additional $ 1.9 trillion was just too much. The White House and some economists have argued that a big package is needed to jumpstart the world’s largest economy.
Opinion polls have found broad public support for the package.
“The only place where this is a partisan issue is here in Washington,” Democratic Representative Jim McGovern said during a debate in the House Rules Committee. “We are here because people are suffering and communities are struggling.”
Biden focused his first weeks in office on tackling the biggest public health crisis in a century, which has shaken most aspects of American life.
Pelosi was counting on nearly all of its members to pass the bill before sending it to a 50-50 Senate where Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris holds the deciding vote.
Biden is expected to make remarks on the stimulus package on Saturday morning.
Debate on raising the minimum wage
The House bill would raise the national hourly minimum wage for the first time since 2009, to $ 15 from $ 7.25. The increase is a top priority for progressive Democrats.
But that is unlikely to gain Senate approval.
The House Parliamentarian ruled on Thursday that, unlike other elements of the far-reaching bill, it cannot pass with a simple majority of 50 Senators plus Harris, rather than the 60 needed to move most forward. laws in the 100-seat chamber.
At least two Senate Democrats oppose the $ 15 hourly figure, along with most Republicans. Some are proposing a more modest increase, in the order of $ 10 to $ 12 an hour.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer could add a provision that would penalize large companies that do not pay their workers a minimum wage of $ 15, a Democratic Senate aide said.
Among the most important elements of the bill are direct payments of $ 1,400 to individuals, federal unemployment benefit of $ 400 per week until August 29, and assistance for those who have difficulty paying their taxes. rent and their mortgage during the pandemic.
A range of business interests also loomed behind Biden’s America Rescue Plan, as the bill calls it.
Efforts to craft a bipartisan coronavirus aid bill quickly failed, with fierce opposition from Republicans.
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 previously exceeded more than $ 4 trillion in relief spending for COVID-19 in seven separate measures in 2020.