House Approves Budget Resolution Setting Stage for Covid-19 Relief Package

Tray Ling

WASHINGTON—The House approved a budget bill advancing President Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief plan, as Mr. Biden met with top House Democrats and lawmakers dived into crafting the details of the relief package. The 219-209 vote marked a further step under budget reconciliation, a process that would allow Democrats to pass […]

WASHINGTON—The House approved a budget bill advancing President Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief plan, as Mr. Biden met with top House Democrats and lawmakers dived into crafting the details of the relief package.

The 219-209 vote marked a further step under budget reconciliation, a process that would allow Democrats to pass the relief package without Republican support in the Senate. Now, Democrats will turn to ironing out the details of the package over several weeks, including deciding who will be eligible for $1,400 direct payments and whether or not to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

During the meeting at the White House, House committee leaders presented on various elements of the bill.

Rep. Richard Neal

(D., Mass.), the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said the group discussed who should receive the $1,400 direct payments in Mr. Biden’s plan. Mr. Biden has indicated he is open to more narrowly targeting the checks.

The latest employment report showed the labor market remained weak, with the U.S. economy adding 49,000 jobs in January after payrolls fell steeply in December. Mr. Biden said he hoped for backing from some Republicans on the aid bill, but again indicated Democrats would move ahead without bipartisan support.

“There are some really fine people who want to get something done. But they’re just not willing to go as far as I think we have to go.”

Lawmakers and the president also discussed that Congress would take up an infrastructure package after completing the relief package, with Mr. Biden pointing to House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman

Peter DeFazio

(D., Ore.) and saying “you’re next.”

The White House also pushed back against concerns from within the Democratic Party that the package was too big. In an opinion article, former top Obama economic aide Larry Summers said that while the 2009 aid package to combat the Great Recession was too small, he said the 2021 plans for “stimulus measures of the magnitude contemplated are steps into the unknown,” citing inflation and other fears.

Mr. Biden said the 2009 recovery act “wasn’t quite big enough.” He said that this time around, “We need an answer that meets the challenge of this crisis, not one to fall short.”

Senators and staff making their way to a series of Senate votes in the Capitol on Thursday.



Photo:

Tom Williams/Zuma Press

The Senate adopted the budget resolution early Friday morning following an all-night “vote-a-rama” in which Republicans tried to put Democrats on the spot on the pace of school reopenings and raising the minimum wage, among other issues, during a lengthy amendment process. Vice President

Kamala Harris

cast her first tiebreaking votes in the Senate to advance the resolution.

Mr. Biden’s aid proposal would also bolster federal unemployment assistance, send $1,400 direct checks to many Americans, provide funds for vaccine distribution and offer aid to schools.

Many GOP lawmakers have opposed Mr. Biden’s plan because of its cost and proximity to the last relief package, a $900 billion round passed in December. They have also criticized Democrats’ embrace of reconciliation, a tool both parties have previously used to pass their priorities.

Rep. Jason Smith (R., Mo.), the top Republican on the House Budget Committee, attacked the proposal’s $350 billion in aid to state and local governments, saying it amounted to a political favor.

Ten Republican senators have offered a roughly $618 billion coronavirus-relief plan to counter the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill President Biden outlined after taking office. WSJ’s Gerald F. Seib explains the significant differences between the two proposals. Photo illustration: Laura Kammermann

“One piece of this debate that is increasingly obvious and concerning to me is how Democrats are pushing legislation that will rescue or reward their political allies in blue-state capitals across the country,” he said.

A group of 10 Republicans have floated an alternative aid plan, about a third of the size of Mr. Biden’s proposal, and met with him at the White House this week. That group sent a letter to the White House Thursday, questioning the amount of education funding in his proposal and asked for additional data about Mr. Biden’s plan.

House and Senate committees will now start a weekslong process of filling in the details of the actual aid legislation, though the Senate’s work may be somewhat slower because of the impeachment trial of former President

Donald Trump

that starts in earnest next week. The House and Senate must approve identical versions of any subsequent legislation, and lawmakers hope to do so before expanded unemployment benefits lapse in mid-March.

House Speaker

Nancy Pelosi

(D., Calif.) told members in a letter Friday that she hopes to finish in the House by the end of February.

The question of whether to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour has divided Democrats so far. At least one Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, has publicly said he is opposed to doing so, and Democrats can’t afford to lose a single vote in the 50-50 Senate.

Some lawmakers also question whether raising the minimum wage is possible under the reconciliation process, which limits policy provisions whose budgetary effects aren’t merely incidental to the policy aims.

Democrats are also debating who should be eligible for the $1,400 direct payments under Mr. Biden’s plan, with some lawmakers pushing to drop the income cutoffs to $50,000 for individuals and $100,000 for married couples, down from $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 for couples. Above those levels, the payments would shrink.

Other lawmakers, including members of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, are also pushing for Congress to take up a narrow bill focused on funding for vaccine production and distribution as a precursor to a larger bill. The White House and top Democrats have so far rejected splitting up the bill into multiple parts.

The House Ways and Means Committee is expected to vote late next week on its piece of the bill, including tax changes and the stimulus payments.

“Republicans expect to offer substantive amendments that attempt to turn what is no stimulus at all in the Covid package into something that really works,” said

Rep. Kevin Brady

of Texas, the panel’s top Republican. “We are eager to work with the president and the White House on crushing this virus. We think there’s a great deal of common ground there.”

Write to Andrew Duehren at [email protected]

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