House passes President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus plan

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WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — The Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives passed President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus aid bill early Saturday morning.

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 passed on a party-line vote of 219 to 212, with two Democrats voting against the bill.

The bill now gets sent to a 50-50 Senate where Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris holds the tie-breaking vote.

The measure would send a new round of emergency financial aid to households that includes $1,400 stimulus checks and an expanded child tax credit, as well as aid to small businesses and state and local governments.

Most Republicans oppose the cost of the bill that would pay for vaccines and other medical supplies to battle the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 500,000 Americans and thrown millions out of work.

Embedded in the House bill is a federal minimum wage increase, which would be the first since 2009 and would gradually bump it up to $15 an hour in 2025 from the current $7.25 rate. But the future of the wage hike was cast into doubt when the Senate parliamentarian ruled Thursday that it could not be allowed under the Senate’s “reconciliation” rules that govern the massive bill.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had earlier predicted the bill will pass Congress with or without the increase, but said Democrats would not give up on the matter.

“We will not stop until we very soon pass the $15 minimum wage,” she said at a news conference.

The special rules allow the legislation to advance in the Senate with a simple majority of the 100 senators, instead of the 60 needed for most legislation.

The finding by Elizabeth MacDonough, the chamber’s nonpartisan arbiter of its rules, means Democrats face an overwhelmingly uphill battle to boost the minimum wage this year in the face of solid Republican opposition.

The $15 minimum wage figure had already faced opposition in the Senate from most Republicans and at least two Democrats, which would have been enough to sink the plan.

House to vote on $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill Friday, lawmakers split over minimum wage

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Biden, a supporter of the $15 increase, was “disappointed” in the outcome but respected the parliamentarian’s ruling, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said. The Senate has a long tradition of heeding the parliamentarian’s decisions with few exceptions.

“He will work with leaders in Congress to determine the best path forward because no one in this country should work full time and live in poverty,” Psaki said.

An array of senators are talking about a smaller wage increase, in the range of $10 to $12 per hour.

In a statement after the Senate parliamentarian’s ruling, Pelosi said: “House Democrats believe that the minimum wage hike is necessary. Therefore, this provision will remain in the American Rescue Plan on the Floor tomorrow.”

In arguing for passage of the relief bill, Pelosi cited opinion polls indicating the support of a significant majority of Americans who have been battered by the year-long pandemic.

“It’s about putting vaccinations in the arm, money in the pocket, children in the schools, workers in their jobs,” Pelosi told reporters on Thursday, adding: “It’s what this country needs.”

Among the big-ticket items in the bill are $1,400 direct payments to individuals, a $400-per-week federal unemployment benefit through Aug. 29 and help for those having difficulties paying their rent and home mortgages during the pandemic.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said the plan was “too costly, too corrupt.” While Republicans for months have blocked a new round of aid to state and local governments, McCarthy said he was open to his home state of California getting some of the bill’s $350 billion in funding, despite a onetime $15 billion budget surplus.

Efforts to craft a bipartisan coronavirus aid bill fizzled early on, shortly after Biden was sworn in as president on Jan. 20, following a series of bipartisan bills enacted in 2020 that totaled around $4 trillion.

Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report. All reporting by Reuters’ Richard Cowan as well as AP’s Alan Fram.