House Democrats approved President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion emergency spending package in a 219-212 vote early on Saturday morning, sending the legislation to the Senate as lawmakers rushed to head off the expiration of enhanced unemployment insurance in mid-March.
The stimulus plan cleared the chamber with Republicans unified in their resistance. Two Democrats joined the Republicans in voting against the legislation.
The package includes $1,400 stimulus checks for taxpayers, $400 in federal unemployment benefits, aid to state and local governments, and vaccine funds. Democrats say it will form a critical pillar in the nation’s fight against the pandemic and the economic malaise it has caused.
“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,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters on Friday.
But Republicans lambasted the proposal, arguing many of its provisions are unrelated to the pandemic. House minority leader Kevin McCarthy of Texas said at a news conference the legislation
“We already know what is the best stimulus plan out there: It is to fully reopen our economy,” he said. “To do that, we need our economy to go back to work, back to school and back to health.”
Senate Democrats will take up the legislation next week, and they’re rushing to enact it before the expiration of enhanced unemployment insurance in mid-March. But they face difficult decisions that could spark some clashes.
The House bill includes a $15 minimum wage, but the Senate parliamentarian ordered it struck from the plan on Thursday evening. The recommendation meant the provision, a key progressive priority, violates the strict reconciliation guidelines under which Democrats are seeking to pass the bill with 51 votes in the Senate.
Senior Democrats, including Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Sherrod Brown of Ohio, are coalescing behind a backup plan along with Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Their proposal would levy a tax penalty on large businesses who don’t pay workers at least $15 an hour.
Small businesses would be provided tax credits equivalent of up to 25% of their payrolls if they lifted workers’ wages. Some business groups like the Chamber of Commerce say they oppose the measure.
“Enough political games,” Neal Bradley, chief policy officer at the Chamber of Commerce, tweeted on Friday. “The business community believes a deal can be reached on a fair min wage increase. R and D members saying the same. It is time for Sen. Sanders & others to focus on a reasonable compromise.”
Some progressives in the House urged Democrats to deliver on campaign promises of a wage hike.
“I don’t think we can go back to voters and say, ‘Look, I know Republicans, Democrats, independents support this, we promised it, but because of an unelected parliamentarian who gave us a ruling, we couldn’t do it,'” Rep. Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told reporters. “Nobody is going to buy that.”
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