The U.S. House of Representatives passed President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package that aims to provide relief to businesses, governments and millions of Americans whose lives have been upended by the coronavirus crisis.
Lawmakers voted early Saturday along party lines in the Democratic-controlled House, passing the measure by a vote of 219–212. The passage puts Biden on a path to his first major legislative victory since entering office Jan. 20.
The COVID-19 relief package now moves to the evenly divided 100-member Senate, where Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris has the tie-breaking vote.
Democrats, who narrowly control the chamber, argued the measure was needed to revive the economy and to fight the COVID-19 pandemic that has claimed more than 510,000 lives in the United States. Republicans who largely backed previous COVID-19 spending say another $1.9 trillion is simply too expensive.
The measure covers the costs of vaccines and other medical supplies and provides $1,400 direct payments to most Americans. It also provides emergency financial relief to local and state governments as well as business sectors hurt by the pandemic’s economic fallout, such as the restaurant and airline industries.
The bill extends emergency unemployment benefits through August, increases tax breaks to lower wage earners and families with children, and gives financial aid to small businesses.
A federal minimum hourly wage increase from $7.25 to $15 proposed by Democrats is in the final version of the bill, however that provision is not likely to win approval in the Senate. The parliamentarian in the Senate — the chamber’s adviser on the interpretation of its rules and procedures, which also votes on the package — said Thursday the proposal must be dropped from the bill, as required by chamber rules.
The decision by Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough forces Democrats to seek other pathways for the minimum wage proposal to pass in the face of stiff Republican opposition.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday that Democrats would not give up on the federal minimum wage increase.
“If it doesn’t prevail because of Senate rules, we will persist … we will not stop until we very soon pass the $15 minimum wage,” she said at a news conference.
Democrats are pushing the measure through the Senate under special rules that bypass the filibuster, meaning they will not need any Republican votes if they stay united.