Congress stimulus package

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Congress Clears $1.9 Trillion Aid Bill, Sending It to Biden

The sweeping legislation had no support from Republican lawmakers, who called it bloated and unaffordable. It will deliver emergency aid and broader assistance to low- and middle-income Americans.

WASHINGTON — Congress gave final approval on Wednesday to President Biden’s sweeping, nearly $1.9 trillion stimulus package, as Democrats acted over unified Republican opposition to push through an emergency pandemic aid plan that carries out a vast expansion of the country’s social safety net.

By a vote of 220 to 211, the House sent the measure to Mr. Biden for his signature, cementing one of the largest injections of federal aid since the Great Depression. It would provide another round of direct payments for Americans, an extension of federal jobless benefits and billions of dollars to distribute coronavirus vaccines and provide relief for schools, states, tribal governments and small businesses struggling during the pandemic.

“This legislation is about giving the backbone of this nation — the essential workers, the working people who built this country, the people who keep this country going — a fighting chance,” Mr. Biden said in a statement. He said he looked forward to signing what he called a “historic piece of legislation” on Friday at the White House.

The vote capped off a swift push by Mr. Biden and Democrats, newly in control of both chambers of Congress and the White House, to address the toll of the coronavirus pandemic and begin putting in place their broader economic agenda. The bill is estimated to slash poverty by a third this year and potentially cut child poverty in half, with expansions of tax credits, food aid and rental and mortgage assistance.

While Republicans argued the plan, whose final cost was estimated at $1.856 trillion, was bloated and unaffordable, surveys indicate that it has widespread support among Americans, with 70 percent of Americans favoring it in a Pew Research Center poll released this week.

Mr. Biden and congressional Democrats planned an elaborate effort to promote it throughout the country, seeking to highlight an array of measures including tax credits for children and enhanced unemployment aid through Labor Day. The effort will begin on Thursday with a prime-time address by Mr. Biden, and congressional Democrats have already fanned out for scores of events in their states and districts to take credit for the legislation.

The campaign is intended to build support for provisions they hope to make permanent in the years to come, and to punish Republicans politically for failing to support it.

Final passage came less than two months after Mr. Biden took office and about a year after cities and states began to shutter to stem the spread of the coronavirus, spurring a succession of relief bills that drew bipartisan support and were signed by President Donald J. Trump.

But rather than haggle with Republicans who wanted to scale back the package, Democrats fast-tracked their own measure through the House and Senate without pausing to court Republican support. They stayed remarkably united in doing so, with just one Democrat, Representative Jared Golden of Maine, voting against the final measure.

“This is the most consequential legislation that many of us will ever be a party to,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said at a news conference after the bill’s passage. “On this day, we celebrate because we are honoring a promise made by our president, and we join with him in promising that help is on the way.”

Earlier, she had dismissed the lack of Republican support and said opponents would not hesitate to claim credit for the popular elements of the plan, saying, “It’s typical that they vote no and take the dough.”

As if to make her point, Senator Roger Wicker, Republican of Mississippi, tweeted approvingly just hours after the bill passed about the $28.6 billion included for “targeted relief” for restaurants. His post did not mention that he had voted no.

“I’m not going to vote for $1.9 trillion just because it has a couple of good provisions,” he later told reporters.

The nearly party-line vote reflected a gamble for both Democrats and Republicans, rooted in the lessons of 2009 when Congress raced to address the Great Recession in the opening months of the Obama administration. Back then, Democrats toiled to win at least some Republican backing for what was at the time the largest stimulus initiative to be considered by Congress, whittling down the package in the process.

Economists widely agree that the $787 billion stimulus law that resulted, which attracted scant Republican support anyway, was too small to address the crisis, and Democrats lost the House in the following midterm elections.

This time, Republicans were gambling that voters would become disillusioned with the scope and price of the plan, as well as the partisan process that yielded it, and punish Democrats accordingly.

“This isn’t a rescue bill. It isn’t a relief bill,” said Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the minority leader. “It’s a laundry list of left-wing priorities that predate the pandemic and do not meet the needs of American families.”

They were also pointing to an increase in the deficit — which the Treasury Department reported on Wednesday had soared by 68 percent to $1 trillion in just the past five months — arguing that the package would add to an already crushing debt burden.

Top Republicans also sought preemptively to deny Democrats credit for any economic improvement that might follow the measure’s enactment.

“The American people are going to see an American comeback this year,” Mr. McCarthy said, “but it won’t be because of this liberal bill.”

Republicans have struggled to coalesce around a specific critique of the plan, beyond condemning it as ultraprogressive, a charge that Democrats were happy to accept. Several provisions were previously included in packages Republicans supported when Mr. Trump was in office, making it difficult for them to make a case against most of its components.

The large cost of the legislation, the second-largest pandemic aid bill after the $2.2 trillion stimulus law enacted just under a year ago, was possible only because Democrats hold majorities in both chambers, albeit slim ones. With a 10-vote margin of control in the House and a 50-to-50 Senate where Vice President Kamala Harris can break ties, Democrats had just enough votes to push through a plan more than triple the size of the most generous Republican proposal.

“I want everybody to think back to Nov. 4 — the day after the election — when we didn’t get the result we wanted in the House, we didn’t get the result we wanted in the Senate,” said Representative John Yarmuth, the Kentucky Democrat who leads the Budget Committee, at a celebratory news conference on Tuesday. “We weren’t sure whether we would have the presidency. And here just a few months later, we’re about to pass one of the most consequential pieces of legislation in modern history.”

Mr. Biden had initially talked of bipartisanship, inviting a contingent of moderate Republican senators to the White House to discuss a potential deal. But they were seeking to slash the size of the rescue plan considerably, and the White House concluded that there was not a deal to be had that would meet the need.

Instead of scaling back the package in an effort to win them over and muster the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster in the Senate, Democrats turned to a budget process known as reconciliation, which requires only a majority to pass major fiscal measures.

The measure will provide $350 billion for state, local and tribal governments; $10 billion for critical state infrastructure projects; $14 billion for the distribution of vaccines; and $130 billion to primary and secondary schools. The bill also includes $30 billion for transit agencies; $45 billion in rental, utility and mortgage assistance; and billions more for small businesses and live performance venues.

It provides another round of direct payments to American taxpayers, sending checks of up to $1,400 to individuals making up to $80,000, single parents earning $120,000 or less and couples with household incomes of no more than $160,000.

Federal unemployment payments of $300 per week will be extended through Sept. 6, and up to $10,200 of jobless aid from last year will be tax-free for households with incomes below $150,000. The bill also increases child tax credits, providing $300 per child age 5 and younger and $250 per child ages 6 to 17.

The practical and political realities that shaped the measure, including the strict rules of reconciliation and Democrats’ razor-thin majorities, produced a narrower bill than Mr. Biden had initially proposed and some temporary provisions that his party will have to fight to preserve.

One is the expansion of the child tax credit. Families will lose it in a year unless Congress agrees to extend it or make it permanent, but Democrats have said they believe Republicans will be unwilling to take away the benefit and plunge millions of children into poverty.

The legislation also contains a substantial, though temporary, expansion of health care subsidies that could slash monthly insurance payments for those purchasing coverage under the Affordable Care Act. And for six months, from April 1 until Sept. 30, the measure will fully cover so-called COBRA health insurance costs for people who have lost a job or had their hours cut and buy coverage from their former employer.

Democrats were also forced to remove an increase in the federal minimum wage, which ran afoul of the budget rules, frustrating progressives. Democrats could not hold their own members together in the Senate to try to revive the measure, which would have raised the wage to $15 by 2025.

In negotiations with conservative-leaning members in their ranks, Democrats also trimmed eligibility for the direct payments and curtailed jobless payments. Still, progressive lawmakers rallied around the final package, even as they vowed to keep fighting to enact more ambitious measures.

“I proudly supported the American Rescue Plan on the floor of the House of Representatives today, and our work is unfinished,” Representative Ayanna S. Pressley, Democrat of Massachusetts, said in a statement. “We must keep fighting for policies that meet the scale and scope of this crisis and set us on a pathway to a just and equitable long-term recovery.”

Jim Tankersley contributed reporting.


Congress passes Biden's Covid-19 stimulus bill

Alex Brandon/AP

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer just signed the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill on Capitol Hill to officially send the legislation to the White House.

In remarks, Pelosi thanked President Biden and several other lawmakers in both the House and Senate.

"President Biden's vision and his determination were so apparent to the American people and the reason why this legislation enjoys this support of 75% of the American people in a strong bipartisan way across the country," Pelosi said. "We thank him for his leadership and also for his contribution to the substance of the legislation as well as his signature when that comes."

President Biden plans to sign the bill into law on Friday afternoon at the White House.

"Who knows what the future may bring, but nonetheless on this day we celebrate because we are honoring a promise made by our President and as we join with him in promising that help is on the way," Pelosi said.

Schumer also thanked Democrats in both chambers for working together to pass the legislation.

"What do we say to America? Help is on the way. Help is on the way. You'll receive $1,400 checks by the end of March," he said.

The Senate leader called the bill "one of the most consequential pieces of legislation we have passed in decades."

"So this is a wonderful day for America," Schumer said.  "This is one of the most consequential pieces of legislation we have passed in decades, and you know what we can show America, that we can get things done to make their lives better, and we will continue to do that through the rest of this session. Help is on the way."

Hear full remarks from Rep. Pelosi and Sen. Schumer:

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Where the stimulus bill stands in Congress, and what comes next

What's riding on this negotiation is the $1,400 stimulus checks proposed by Biden even before he took office, as well as that extra federal unemployment money. Democrats have said they will get a bill signed by mid-March.
Three key things to know about the legislation passed by the House:
  • It's massive. The latest package will run to about $1.9 trillion on top of about $4 trillion already approved under former President Donald Trump. See where that money went here.
  • It's sweeping. The new bill would touch everything from direct stimulus payments and extending unemployment insurance to propping up the airline industry, giving new money for vaccines and helping troubled school districts. The House version also currently includes a federal minimum wage increase to $15 -- though that provision will not make it into the Senate version after the parliamentarian determined it could not be passed by a simple majority, under Senate rules.
  • It's controversial. Republicans say it's too big and want something smaller, or that Congress should wait to see how the Covid pandemic progresses before deciding to send additional aid. Democrats are split over whether to include the minimum wage hike, which is a top priority of progressives but opposed by moderates in the party.
But getting the package -- packages, really, since there will be different versions between the House, Senate and White House that must be reconciled -- passed into law will test Biden's calls for unity.
Work on the plan so far has made clear not just that most Republicans have little appetite for cooperating with the Democrats who are now in charge, but also that Democrats -- whose control of Senate rests with Vice President Kamala Harris' tiebreaking vote -- aren't totally unified among themselves.
Continue below to find out what we know right now about where the bill is at and where it's going.
A full breakdown of what's in the bill passed in the House is here.
A guide to what you can expect to get from the current version of the bill is here.
Everything you need to know about the complicated procedure Democrats will have to use to push this through the Senate, which is split 50-50, is here.

Is there a deadline for this thing to pass?

Sort of. Current expanded unemployment benefits run out March 14. That's the date by which Democrats have said they must have the Covid relief bill passed into law.
There are different proposals for extending these benefits. In the House, Democrats have proposed extending by an additional 24 weeks two separate programs -- one for part-time and gig workers and the other for people in more traditional state-run unemployment programs.
The House has passed its version of the bill. Now it is up to the Senate, which is using the arcane budget reconciliation process to pass it by a simple majority. Whatever version the Senate approves would also have to pass again through the House.

How many people could lose expanded unemployment benefits in March?

A lot. Maybe more than 11 million -- one estimate, from The Century Foundation, predicted 4 million people would lose benefits in mid-March and an additional 7.3 million would lose benefits in subsequent weeks.
The two unemployment programs were created nearly a year ago by the CARES Act, which Congress passed in March 2020 and extended in December. More than a third of Americans reported their household has had trouble covering expenses during the pandemic, according to a survey conducted by the Census.

Can this bill pass by mid-March?

"We are on track to get this bill done and get it on the President's desk before the expiration of the enhanced unemployment benefits, which is March 14," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Wednesday.

Will any Republicans join in?

It doesn't look like it. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday that Republicans had visited the White House to ask for a smaller and "more targeted" bill. But Democrats and Biden weren't interested, he said.
"They're going to try to muscle this through on a totally partisan basis," McConnell told reporters Wednesday.

How can Democrats pass the bill without any help from Republicans?

This is where things get tricky in the Senate. Democrats plan to use a process known as "budget reconciliation," which, ironically, was developed to keep the federal budget in check. But it also provides Democrats the only way around Senate rules and pass things by only a simple majority, which in this case would only require a party-line vote with all Democrats on board.

What are the main sticking points for Republicans?

Republicans have groused about the size of the stimulus package and some of the specific measures, like the size of stimulus checks for certain groups. Republicans want much smaller checks, if any at all.
There have also been criticisms of funding to public transportation authorities hurting because of the pandemic.

What are the main sticking points for Democrats?

The most notable disagreement, however, has been among Democrats about whether to include the permanent change to the minimum wage. The Senate parliamentarian, however, has determined that the wage hike would require a supermajority vote under budget rules -- more than Democrats can muster. All Democrats in the Senate must sign on to the bill for it to pass, however.
With the minimum wage stripped, the question then becomes whether House Democrats, like New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, can support something that doesn't deliver on one of their major goals. Read more on that here.

Do Republicans support raising the minimum wage?

Republican Sens. Mitt Romney and Tom Cotton have suggested a $10 federal wage, but Democrats say that's too small and they also want to make the wage increase automatically with the cost of living.
This drama will unfold over the next two weeks as Democrats work to find a way to pass the bill before March 14.
This story has been updated to reflect the latest developments.

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Package congress stimulus

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