Democrats Pass $1.9 Trillion COVID Relief Plan In Biden’s First Major Legislative Success

President Joe Biden (Photo by Oliver Contreras-Pool/Getty Images)
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The House passed the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package Wednesday, with Democrats in both chambers using their slim majorities to deliver President Joe Biden’s first big legislative victory and fulfill one of his campaign promises. 

The House erupted into cheers as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) banged the gavel and closed out the vote.

There were no Republican defections in the House. Rep. Jared Golden (D-ME) was the sole Democrat to vote no.

The Senate was a similar story, with all the Democrats voting yes and all the Republicans present voting no (Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska left to attend a funeral).

The White House said Biden will sign the bill into law on Friday.

The package, which Senate Budget Committee chair Bernie Sanders (I-VT) called “the most significant piece of legislation to help working people that has been passed by Congress in decades” and which Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) called “the most transformative relief bill in our nation’s history” is stuffed with aid. 

It specifically targets low-income people and provides direct checks and a child tax credit that researchers at Columbia University found, coupled with other provisions in the plan, would cut the poverty rate for children in half and for adults by more than a quarter.

The bill also expands rental assistance and unemployment benefits, increases subsidies for childcare and broadens eligibility under the Affordable Care Act. It funnels $350 billion to state, local and tribal governments, and $130 billion to schools. It also provides funding for businesses, colleges and universities and public health programs. 

Democrats passed the package through the Senate using reconciliation, a process for passing budgetary-related legislation that only requires 51 votes and allowed them to circumvent the filibuster. Senate Republicans howled that the process was partisan and forced the entire bill to be read and proposed a spate of amendments to slow its passage.

In the House, no Republicans voted for the bill on its first go around — it had to be passed in the House again after changes were made in the Senate. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) also forced a Wednesday morning motion to adjourn, delaying the bill’s final vote.

While the bill is a massive progressive achievement, Democrats didn’t get every single provision they wanted. The Senate parliamentarian barred the inclusion of raising the minimum wage to $15, setting up a future fight: Pelosi said Tuesday that she’d have more to say on the ongoing struggle to raise the wage later this week, possibly previewing a standalone bill or attempt to wrap it into the upcoming infrastructure package.

There was also a last minute panic on the Senate floor, swallowing up a few hours of debate, while Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) insisted on lowering the unemployment insurance benefit from $400 a week to $300. The reduced benefit made it into the final bill. 

Still, the package represents a radical redistribution of wealth targeting the poorest people and families who have also been hit hardest by the pandemic and economic devastation. Democrats started their victory lap even before the bill had passed in the House, appearing ebullient at Tuesday press conferences and floor speeches. 

“I’m so excited, I just can’t hide it,” Pelosi told reporters, adding: “It’s a remarkable, historic, transformative piece of legislation, which goes a very long way to crushing the virus and solving our economic crisis.”

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