The House passed President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan early Saturday, advancing a pandemic aid package that would provide billions of dollars in relief to help financially-strapped families and businesses, support schools, and bolster COVID-19 vaccine distribution.
Democrats pushed past unanimous Republican opposition in the 219 to 212 vote favoring Biden’s first major agenda item. All but two Democrats, Reps. Kurt Schrader (OR) Oregon and Jared Golden (ME) voted to pass the legislation.
The passage of the bill by the House came after the Senate parliamentarian ruled that the $15 minimum wage could not proceed under reconciliation. House Democrats included the hike anyway.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) pledged on Friday that even if the Senate tosses the proposed increase, the House will get it done another way — although its seems unlikely that a standalone bill to raise the minimum wage would attract the 60 Senate votes needed to overcome a filibuster.
During a news conference on Friday, Pelosi asserted that the minimum wage increase was a “value” and a “priority,” but she urged colleagues not to get distracted from what the bill had to offer elsewhere.
“This is a spectacular piece of legislation. While the Senate has prevented us temporarily from passing one aspect of it, let us not be distracted from what is in here, because it is a great bill,” she said.
The relief bill would provide $1,400 stimulus payments to individuals earning up to $75,000 a year and to couples earning up to $150,000 and extend enhanced federal unemployment benefits through August. The bill would provide $350 billion in aid to states, cities, U.S. territories and tribal governments, while increasing funding for vaccine distribution and coronavirus testing, among other measures.
Democrats hope to get the legislation through the Senate and signed into law by March 14, to beat the anticipated expiration of enhanced unemployment benefits.
Republicans have repeatedly decried the legislation as partisan and divisive amid ongoing calls for unity. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) decried the bill which he said included measures unrelated to the pandemic.
“This isn’t a relief bill. It takes care of Democrats’ political allies, while it fails to deliver for American families,” he said on Friday.
If Senate Republicans remain opposed, Democrats can pass the legislation only if they stay united and Vice President Kamala Harris breaks the tie.
Senate Democrats are carefully considering alternatives to the minimum wage increase that might include a tax hike on large corporations that refuse to meet the $15 hourly minimum for their workers.
Two Democratic aides told the Washington Post that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) was weighing the potential provision that has been proposed by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) who chairs the finance committee.
President Biden urged quick action from the Senate in remarks on Saturday.
“I hope it will receive quick action,” Biden said. “We have no time to waste. If we act now, decisively, quickly and boldly, we can finally get ahead of this virus, we can finally get our economy moving again and the people of this country have suffered far too much for too long. We need to relieve that suffering.”