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US Congress approves US $ 1.9 trillion virus relief bill for Biden and Dems

WASHINGTON – Party-divided Congress approved landmark US $ 1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, as US President Joe Biden and Democrats demand major triumph over power-rallying legislation government spending against the double pandemic and the economic crises that have shaken a nation.

The House gave Congressional final approval to the package on Wednesday in a vote close to the 220-211 party line exactly seven weeks after Biden entered the White House and four days after the Senate moved adopted the bill. Republicans in both chambers unanimously opposed the legislation, calling it bloated, crammed with liberal policies and recklessly showing signs of easing crises.

“The help is here,” Biden tweeted moments after the roll call, which ended with applause from Democratic lawmakers. Biden said he would sign the measure on Friday.

The most notable provisions for many Americans are the provisions providing up to $ 1,400 in direct payments this year to most people and extending weekly emergency unemployment benefits by $ 300 until early September. But the legislation goes much further.

The measure responds to Democrats’ campaign promises and Biden’s initial priority to loosen a punch that first hit the country a year ago. Since then, many Americans have been relegated to hermit lifestyles in their homes to avoid a disease that has killed more than 525,000 people – roughly the population of Wichita, Kansas – and plunged the economy to its worst. deep recesses since the Great Depression.

“Today we have a decision to make of tremendous importance,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., “A decision that will make a difference for millions of Americans, saving lives and livelihoods. “

For Biden and the Democrats, the bill is essentially a canvas on which they painted their core beliefs – that government programs can be a boon, not a curse, for millions of people and that spending huge sums on such efforts can be a cure, not a curse. The measure follows Democrats’ priorities so closely that many rank it among the best achievements of their careers, and despite their low majorities in Congress, there has never been any real suspense about its fate.

They were also bolstered by three dynamics: their unfettered control of the White House and Congress, polls showing strong support for Biden’s approach, and a time when most voters care little that the national debt is mounting in arrow towards 22 trillion stratospheric dollars. Neither party seems very troubled by the rise of red ink either, except when the other uses it to fund their priorities, be it Democratic spending or cuts. GOP tax.

Republicans noted that they had overwhelmingly backed five relief bills that Congress had approved since the pandemic struck a year ago, when the divided government of then President Donald Trump forced them parties to negotiate. They said it only reflects Democratic goals by setting aside money for family planning programs and federal workers taking time off to deal with COVID-19 and not requiring schools to be closed. accepting help reopen their doors.

“If you are a member of the Swamp you are doing pretty well with this bill. But for the American people it means serious problems on the horizon,” said Parliamentary Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R- Calif., Referring to the added federal borrowing that the measure will force.

Despite this, Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., Touted the $ 29 billion bill for the struggling restaurant industry, tweeting that it would help them “survive the pandemic” without mentioning that he had voted against the legislation. Democrats predicted this week that Republicans would do this, with Pelosi saying, “It’s typical that they vote no and take the dough.”

Wicker told reporters, “I won’t vote for $ 1.9 trillion just because it contains some good provisions.”

A dominant feature of the 628-page bill is the initiatives that make it one of the biggest federal efforts in years to help low- and middle-income families. Included are expanded tax credits over the next year for children, child care and family leave – some of these are credits Democrats have signaled they would like to make permanent – as well as expenses for tenants, food programs and utility bills.

Besides direct payments and the extension of unemployment benefits, the measure foresees hundreds of billions for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, schools, state and local governments and struggling industries, from airlines to concert halls. . There is help for farmers of color, pension systems and student borrowers, and subsidies for consumers who buy health insurance and states extend Medicaid coverage to low-income people.

“Who’s going to help? Are we saying this is all survival of the fittest? No,” House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth D-Ky said. “We are up to the occasion. We deliver.”

The legislation would reduce the number of people living in poverty this year by about a third, from 44 million to 28 million, the liberal-leaning Urban Institute said on Wednesday. The child poverty rate would be cut by more than half, said the institute, which examined the impact of the measure’s stimulus checks, unemployment benefits, food stamps and tax credits for children. .

Representative Jared Golden of Maine was the only Democrat to oppose the measure. He said some expenses in the bill were not urgent.

The measure was approved amid promising but mixed signs of recovery.

Americans are getting vaccinated at increasingly high rates, although this is tempered by variants of the coronavirus and people’s growing impatience to curb social activities. The economy unexpectedly created 379,000 jobs last month, but 9.5 million fewer remain than before the pandemic.

Republicans have said the country will pay the price for the additional spending.

“It’s certainly good policy to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to hand you a check for $ 1,400,’ said Rep. Tom Rice, RS.C. “But what they don’t talk about is what this bill costs.”

An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll last week found that 70% of Americans support Biden’s response to the virus, including 44% of Republicans. According to a CNN poll released Wednesday, the relief bill is supported by 61% of Americans, including nearly all Democrats, 58% of independents and 26% of Republicans.

Yet until November 2022, when Senate and House control will be on the line, it will be uncertain whether voters will reward Democrats, punish them, or make decisions on unforeseen issues.

The Bill’s track underscored the challenges Democrats face as they seek to put together a legislative brief to please voters.

Democrats control the 50-50 split Senate only because Vice President Kamala Harris gives them the winning roll-call vote. They only have a 10-vote advantage in the House.

That’s hardly any wiggle room for a party ranging from West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin on the conservative side to progressives like New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

On the relief bill, progressives had to swallow big concessions to solidify moderate support.

The most painful part was eliminating the House-approved federal minimum wage increase to $ 15 an hour by 2025. The moderates were also successful in cutting emergency unemployment benefits, which in an earlier version were $ 400 per week, and to completely eliminate stimulus checks of $ 1,400 for employees at lower levels than initially proposed.

At some point, it seems likely that progressives will draw their own lines in the sand.

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