Joe Biden’s $1.9tn coronavirus relief package is expected to clear a vote in the US House of Representatives on Wednesday, marking a milestone in the administration’s first 100 days as the new president seeks to mitigate fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and reboot the US economy.
The House, which is controlled by Democrats, passed the American Rescue Act — the second-largest economic stimulus bill in US history — for the first time last month. The bill was then revised and approved by the Senate in a party-line vote last weekend. It will need to be approved again by the House before it can be sent to Biden for his signature.
The updated bill includes a new round of means-tested direct payments of up to $1,400 for most American adults, a weekly top-up of up to $300 in federal unemployment benefits, another $350bn in aid to state and local governments, and an expansion of tax credits for children.
“The American people have been calling on us to deliver relief, and to defeat the Covid-19 pandemic. Today we come together to send a resounding message that help is on the way,” Bobby Scott, a Democratic House member from Virginia, said during the debate on the legislation on Wednesday.
Republicans attacked the legislation as excessive spending that was stuffed with pet projects championed by the left. “It just throws out money without accountability,” Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader in the House, said on Wednesday.
He added: “Remember what Margaret Thatcher said: socialism will eventually run out of other people’s money”.
In a speech on Tuesday evening, Janet Yellen, the US Treasury secretary, made one of her most extensive public appeals for the bill, arguing that a large-scale fiscal expansion would stoke the US economy and mitigate the hit from the pandemic on low-income households. Yellen has dismissed concerns that the legislation could trigger an unhealthy inflationary spiral.
“If we do our job, I am confident that Americans will make it to the other side of this pandemic — and be met there by some measure of prosperity,” she said. “[It] will finally allow us to do what most of us came to government for — not simply to fight fires and resolve crises, but to build a better country.”
Biden has made the legislation a top priority since taking office earlier this year. Its passage will clear a path for the president to shift focus to other items on his agenda, such as expanding infrastructure spending or reforming voting laws.
Biden is scheduled to address the nation in a televised primetime speech on Thursday, following the bill’s expected passage.
Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, said the president would use the address to “talk about Covid, what we have been through as a country, and what the path forward looks like”.
Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House, on Tuesday said she had no concerns about the bill passing the lower chamber of Congress, which her party controls by a narrow margin.
The biggest potential sources of defection were progressive Democrats unhappy with the Senate’s changes to the bill, which trimmed certain provisions and stripped out an increase in the minimum wage.
But even some Democratic critics of the bill signalled they were on board on Wednesday. “While I will continue to pressure my party to live up to its banner as the party of the people, I cannot ignore the immediate need for relief,” said Bonnie Watson Coleman, a New Jersey Democrat.
Psaki on Tuesday reiterated Biden’s vow to send the direct payments to American families within the month. She noted that unlike the two previous rounds of cheques sent under the Trump administration, the next round of payments would not include the president’s signature.
“The cheques will be signed by a career official at the bureau of fiscal service,” she added. “This is not about [Biden]. It is about the American people getting relief.”
The sweeping bill is likely to become law despite lacking support from a single Republican in Congress. Many Republicans have said the broad package — which comes just months after a $900bn Covid relief package in December, and nearly one year after the $2.3tn Cares Act — is not “targeted” enough to support the American families and businesses hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.