Biden signs $1.9 trillion rescue package into law, starting the clock on distributing $1,400 stimulus checks

Joe Biden
President Joe Biden. AP Photo/Alex Brandon
  • Biden signed a $US1.9 ($2) trillion stimulus package into law after weeks of negotiations on Capitol Hill.
  • It has stimulus payments, renewed unemployment benefits, and funds for vaccine distribution.
  • The bill passed the Senate last week in a 50-49 vote and the House this week in a vote of 220-211.
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President Joe Biden signed a $US1.9 ($2) trillion stimulus package into law on Thursday, setting off a massive government rescue effort for struggling families and unemployed Americans. It starts the clock for the distribution of a new wave of direct payments for tens of millions of taxpayers this month.

Biden moved to secure the first major legislative victory of his presidency a day ahead of schedule, as the formal signing was originally scheduled for Friday. White House officials said they received the legislation from Congress earlier than expected and wanted to act swiftly on providing federal aid.

“This historic legislation is about rebuilding the backbone of this country, giving people in this nation – working people, middle-class folks, people who built the country – a fighting chance,” Biden said at the White House on Thursday.

It will provide $US1,400 ($1,799) stimulus payments for most taxpayers, $US300 ($386) weekly federal jobless aid through early September, funding for vaccine distribution and testing, an expansion of the child tax credit, and money for state and local governments.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said later on Thursday that “people can expect to start seeing direct deposits hit their bank accounts as early as this weekend.”

It came hours before the president was set to address the nation in his first prime-time address on Thursday evening, timed to the first anniversary of the nation’s initial virus lockdowns.

The House approved the measure on Wednesday in a mostly party-line vote, four days after the Senate passed it. The bill ran into fierce Republican opposition in both chambers, and no Republican lawmaker voted for it.

“The American people already built a parade that’s been marching toward victory,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said earlier Thursday in a floor speech. “Democrats just want to sprint in front of the parade and claim credit.”

But some Republicans have already tried to claim credit for some of its components. Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi tweeted in support of a provision aiding restaurants, though he was among the 49 Senate Republicans who didn’t cast a vote for the legislation.

The White House said Wednesday that Biden, along with Vice President Kamala Harris, would kick off a nationwide tour to promote the sweeping legislation in the next week. Biden will make a stop in Pennsylvania, and the pair would travel together to Georgia.

It’s a substantial shift for Democrats compared to a decade ago. In 2009, President Barack Obama did not succeed selling voters on an $US800 ($1,028) billion stimulus package designed to pull the US out of the financial crisis. Democrats lost the House a year later, partly because Republicans redefined the economic aid package as a colossal waste.

The Biden stimulus law, however, has proved broadly popular with voters in polls so far.

Democrats are increasingly casting the law as a generational anti-poverty measure. The boosted child tax credit is projected to cut the child poverty rate in half. Experts say the stimulus checks and enhanced unemployment insurance will also help strengthen the battered finances of jobless and low-income Americans.

The rescue package largely kept its size and scope while going through both chambers of Congress over the past two months. The devastating pandemic caused Democrats to press for a large, expansive relief package, and they employed a legislative tactic called reconciliation to push it through without Republican support.

The stimulus law is the product of several weeks of negotiations on Capitol Hill – the sixth emergency spending measure that Congress authorized over the past year to combat the pandemic. In total, the pandemic relief amounts to roughly $US5 ($6) trillion, all of it deficit-financed.

The original plan Biden proposed, which passed the House, included a provision for a $US15 ($19) federal minimum wage and unemployment benefits of $US400 ($514) a week until the end of September.

But Democrats stripped the minimum-wage provision from the bill after the Senate parliamentarian determined that it violated procedural rules in the upper chamber. They also trimmed down unemployment benefits to $US300 ($386) a week, with a Labor Day expiration, while exempting the first $US10,200 ($13,110) in jobless aid from taxes.

Democrats raced against the clock as they worked to get the stimulus package to Biden’s desk before unemployment benefits for millions of Americans were set to end on March 14.