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The Day – Congress approves $ 1.9 million virus relief bill for Biden and Dems

By on March 23, 2021 0

WASHINGTON (AP) – A party-divided Congress approved a $ 1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill on Wednesday, as President Joe Biden and Democrats claimed the triumph of a bill that mobilizes government spending against the dual pandemic and the economic crises that have changed a nation.

The House gave the final congressional approval to the broad body in a vote close to the 220-211 party line exactly seven weeks after Biden entered the White House and four days after the Senate passed the bill. law. Republicans in both chambers unanimously opposed the bill, calling it bloated, stuffed with liberal policies and heedless of signs of easing crises.

“Help is here,” Biden tweeted moments after the call ended.

The most notable arrangements for many Americans are the arrangements to provide up to $ 1,400 in direct payments this year to most adults and to extend emergency unemployment benefits by $ 300 per week until the start. September. But the legislation goes much further.

The measure responds to Democrats’ campaign promises and Biden’s initial priority of easing a punch that first hit the country a year ago. Since then, many Americans have been relegated to hermit lifestyles in their homes to avoid a disease that has killed more than 525,000 people – roughly the population of Wichita, Kansas – and plunged the economy to its worst. deep since the Great Depression.

“Today we have a decision to make with enormous consequences,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., “A decision that will make a difference for millions of Americans, saving lives. and livelihood. “

For Biden and the Democrats, the bill is essentially a canvas on which they painted their core beliefs – that government programs can be a boon, not a bane, for millions of people and that spending huge sums on such efforts can be a cure, not a curse. The measure follows Democrats’ priorities so closely that many rank it among the best achievements of their careers, and despite their low majorities in Congress, there has never been any real suspense about its fate.

They were also bolstered by three dynamics: their unfettered control of the White House and Congress, polls showing strong support for Biden’s approach, and a time when most voters care little that the national debt is mounting in arrow towards 22 trillion stratospheric dollars. Neither party seems very troubled by the rise of red ink either, except when the other uses it to fund their priorities, be it Democratic spending or cuts. GOP tax.

Representative Jared Golden of Maine was the only Democrat to oppose the measure. He said in a written statement that the bill provided for hundreds of billions of dollars “beyond the satisfaction of the most urgent needs”, and he said that this endangered the economic recovery.

Republicans noted that they had overwhelmingly backed five relief bills that Congress had approved since the pandemic struck a year ago, when the divided government of then President Donald Trump forced them parties to negotiate. They said it only reflects Democratic goals by setting aside money for family planning programs and federal workers taking time off to deal with COVID-19 and not requiring schools to be closed. accepting help reopen their doors.

“If you are a member of the swamp, you are doing pretty well with this bill. But for the American people, it means serious problems on the horizon, ”said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Referring to the additional federal borrowing the measure will force.

A dominant feature of the 628-page bill are the initiatives that make it one of the biggest federal efforts in years to help low- and middle-income families. Included are expanded tax credits over the next year for children, child care and family leave – some of which Democrats have signaled they would like to make permanent – as well as spending for tenants, food programs and utility bills.

Besides direct payments and the extension of unemployment benefits, the measure foresees hundreds of billions for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, schools, state and local governments and struggling industries, from airlines to concert halls. . There is help for farmers of color, pension systems and student borrowers, and subsidies for consumers who buy health insurance and states extend Medicaid coverage to low-income people.

“Who is going to help? Shall we say that all of this is survival of the fittest? No, ”said House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth, D-Ky. “We are up to the task. We deliver.”

Highlighting the purpose of the bill, the independent Tax Policy Center said the measure would give nearly 70% of its tax breaks this year to households earning $ 91,000 or less. In contrast, the Trump-era GOP tax bill gave nearly half of its 2018 cuts to the richest 5% of households earning around $ 308,000, said the research center, which is led by the Urban Institute and the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution.

The measure was approved amid promising but mixed signs of recovery.

Americans are getting vaccinated at increasingly high rates, although this is tempered by variants of the coronavirus and people’s growing impatience to curb social activities. The economy unexpectedly created 379,000 jobs last month, though 9.5 million fewer remain than before the pandemic.

Republicans have said the country will pay the price for the additional spending.

“It’s certainly good policy to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to hand you a check for $ 1,400,’ said Rep. Tom Rice of South Carolina.“ But what they’re not talking about is what this bill costs. “

An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll last week found that 70% of Americans support Biden’s response to the virus, including 44% of Republicans. According to a CNN poll released Wednesday, the relief bill is supported by 61% of Americans, including nearly all Democrats, 58% of independents and 26% of Republicans.

Yet until November 2022, when Senate and House control will be on the line, it will be uncertain whether voters will reward Democrats, punish them for spending, or make decisions on other unforeseen matters.

The Bill’s track underscored the challenges Democrats face as they seek to build a legislative brief that will persuade voters to support them.

Democrats control the 50-50 split Senate only because Vice President Kamala Harris gives them the winning roll-call vote. They only have a 10-vote advantage in the House.

That’s almost no wiggle room for a party that ranges from West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin on the conservative side to progressives like New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

On the relief bill, progressives had to swallow big concessions to solidify moderate support.

Most painful has been to reduce the House-approved federal minimum wage increase to $ 15 an hour by 2025. The moderates also managed to cut emergency unemployment benefits, which in an earlier version were of $ 400 per week, and to completely eliminate stimulus checks of $ 1,400 for employees at lower levels than those initially proposed.

Keeping the Democrats united won’t be any easier as the party tries to push the rest of its agenda forward. There are fault lines within the party on priorities like immigration, health care and taxes.

At some point, it seems likely that progressives will draw their own lines in the sand. They are already demanding that the party review the increase in the minimum wage.

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