House passes $1.9 trillion stimulus package, paving the way for Biden to sign it into law later this week

Nancy Pelosi
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Drew Angerer/Getty Images
  • The House passed a $US1.9 ($2) trillion stimulus package on Wednesday after weeks of negotiations.
  • The passage puts the bill on track to be signed into law by President Joe Biden on Friday.
  • It has stimulus checks for taxpayers, unemployment benefits, and funding for vaccine distribution.
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The House of Representatives passed a $US1.9 ($2) trillion stimulus package on Wednesday, paving the way for President Joe Biden to sign it this week. It sets up a colossal federal effort to assist struggling households and pull the economy out of its worst crisis in generations.

The 220-211 vote fell mostly along party-lines. Every House Republican opposed the bill. Last weekend, every Senate Republican voted against it. Rep. Jared Golden of Maine was the lone Democrat who did not support the plan.

The plan’s passage secured Biden’s first major legislative victory since taking office nearly two months ago. It also came roughly a year into a pandemic that has devastated the American economy, throwing millions of people out of work.

“This legislation is one of the most transformative and historic bills any of us will ever have an opportunity to support,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. She compared it to the passage of the healthcare law, the Affordable Care Act, a decade ago.

The White House said the president would sign the bill on Friday. It largely kept its size while going through both chambers of Congress. However, Republicans have long assailed its price-tag, arguing it was full of wasteful provisions.

“This isn’t a rescue bill; it isn’t a relief bill; it is a laundry list of left-wing priorities that predate the pandemic and do not meet the needs of American families,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said earlier Wednesday.

The Senate approved it on a party-line vote Saturday after a marathon stretch of voting. It’s shaping up to be among the largest government rescue measures in American history, one that experts at Columbia University have said could cut child poverty in half.

It includes $US1,400 ($1,817) stimulus payments for most taxpayers; $US300 ($389) weekly federal jobless aid through early September; funding for vaccine distribution and testing; an expansion of the child tax credit; and a pot of money for state and local governments.

The measure is the sixth major coronavirus relief bill Congress has authorized in a year, bringing the total sum of emergency spending to $US5 ($6) trillion. Over half a million Americans have died since the pandemic started sweeping the country early last year.

The legislation’s path through the House and the Senate starkly illustrates the chasm dividing Republicans and Democrats. Though Biden campaigned on restoring bipartisanship, the package did not get a single Republican vote in either chamber. It may foreshadow major obstacles for the president as he moves onto other parts of his legislative agenda like infrastructure, tax reform, and immigration.

The bill’s passage comes as vaccinations are picking up across the nation and the number of daily infections steadily drop. Still, the economy remains 10 million jobs below pre-pandemic levels. Experts remain concerned about virus mutations and states rolling back virus restrictions causing another spike in cases.

“This legislation is about giving the backbone of this nation – the essential workers, the working people who built this country, the people who keep this country going – a fighting chance,” Biden said in a statement. He is delivering his first prime-time address on Thursday on the state of the pandemic.

An early analysis of the rescue plan indicated that the vast majority of its benefits were squarely directed at middle- and low-income households, and Democrats have increasingly cast it as a historic antipoverty measure.

White House officials argued the package was bipartisan because it had broad support in various polls and surveys. They are planning to tout it in the coming months and claim credit for its provisions.

President Joe Biden
President Joe Biden meets with senators in the Oval Office on February 11. Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images

Senate modifications didn’t provoke a progressive revolt in the House

Senate Democrats modified two major parts of the initial House legislation: a minimum-wage increase and enhanced unemployment insurance. The Senate parliamentarian determined that the provision with a $US15 ($19) minimum wage violated certain procedural rules.

Then federal unemployment benefits were scaled back to $US300 ($389) a week from $US400 ($519) to placate moderate Democrats. This aid expires on Labor Day, and the bill exempts the first $US10,200 ($13,235) in jobless aid from taxes.

Democrats argued that the changes didn’t affect the core parts of the bill. “It’s never what you exactly wanted it to be, but in my wildest dreams I wouldn’t think we’d be on the verge of passing something so consequential that’s going to improve the lives of so many people,” Rep. John Yarmuth, the chair of the House Budget Committee, told Insider before the vote.

The Senate modifications didn’t cause a revolt among progressives in the House. Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota told Insider that she believed the bill still reflected many liberal priorities. “We’re going to pass it because we represent constituents that will desperately benefit from the tremendous amount of relief in the package,” she said Tuesday.

Omar also said that she and other progressive lawmakers would meet with the White House soon to strategize on a legislative push for a $US15 ($19) minimum wage.