WASHINGTON — The House will vote on President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package Friday, just days after the U.S. crossed 500,000 deaths from the coronavirus.
The Democratic-controlled House is expected to pass the sweeping bill, which includes $1,400 direct payments, a $400-a-week federal unemployment bonus, a per-child allowance of up to $3,600 for one year and billions of dollars to distribute the coronavirus vaccines and to assist schools and local governments.
It would be the sixth round of aid from the federal government; the economy is still reeling from widespread shutdowns, and most Americans continue to wait their turns to be vaccinated.
“The need is great. The opportunity is there,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters Thursday, touting “the precision of this legislation to directly address the needs of the American people, the lives of the American people and the livelihoods.”
The legislation faces widespread opposition from congressional Republicans, who decry it as a liberal wish list. Recent polls show that the package is popular with most Americans, earning 66 percent support in an Economist/YouGov study and 76 percent support in a Morning Consult/Politico survey.
It is unclear whether any House Republicans will vote for it, but the narrow Democratic majority can pass it on a party-line vote if it keeps internal defections to a minimum.
The $1,400 payments would be sent to individuals who make up to $75,000 a year or married couples making $150,000, and they would gradually decrease for those who make more, zeroing out at $100,000 for individuals and $200,000 for couples.
The House bill also includes a federal minimum wage hike from $7.25 to $15 per hour, phased in over four years. The provision, a top progressive priority, is all but doomed in the Senate after a ruling Thursday evening by the in-house referee that it violates the chamber’s rules for legislation that can pass with a simple majority.
Biden had included the wage hike in his proposal. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in response to the ruling that the president is “disappointed” but “respects the parliamentarian’s decision and the Senate’s process.”
Psaki said he would “determine the best path forward” on a minimum wage increase, but called on legislators to pass the rest of the Covid-19 relief package in the meantime.
“He urges Congress to move quickly to pass the American Rescue Plan, which includes $1400 rescue checks for most Americans, funding to get this virus under control, aid to get our schools reopened and desperately needed help for the people who have been hardest hit by this crisis,” Psaki said.
Pelosi said the House, which is not bound by the Senate’s procedural restrictions, would keep the $15 wage provision in its bill on Friday despite the parliamentarian’s decision.
“House Democrats believe that the minimum wage hike is necessary,” she said.
The federal wage floor of $7.25 an hour hasn’t risen since 2009.
After the Thursday ruling, top Senate Democrats immediately began looking for a way to use tax penalties to push companies to pay higher wages, which is more likely to comply with the rules.
Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said he is “looking at a tax penalty for mega-corporations that refuse to pay a living wage.”
Senate Budget Chair Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., called for an amendment to the Covid-19 bill that “to take tax deductions away from large, profitable corporations that don’t pay workers at least $15 an hour and to provide small businesses with the incentives they need to raise wages.”
Democrats are eager to address the issue in the reconciliation process because it would otherwise be subject to the 60-vote threshold in the Senate, all but ensuring its demise due to a lack of Republican support.
The rest of the $1.9 trillion package has overwhelming support among Democratic lawmakers, and it is expected to become law, possibly with some changes in the Senate.
“If they change it, we’ll take it back and pass it and then send it to the White House,” Pelosi told reporters. “We are very excited about that.”
Biden pitched his relief plan Thursday at an event to mark the 50 millionth coronavirus vaccination shot, warning that new variants of the virus could cause case numbers to rise again.
“Everything is not fixed. We have a long way to go. And that day when everything gets back to normal depends on all of us,” he said. “It depends on Congress passing the American Recovery Act.”