The House of Representatives passed a $1.9 trillion stimulus plan early Saturday morning in what was the first legislative victory for President Joe Biden and a show of unity among Democrats. The bill, which would provide money to the unemployed as well as businesses, states, and cities that have been hurt by the pandemic passed on a near party-line vote of 219-212. All but two Democrats—Reps. Jared Golden of Maine and Kurt Schrader of Oregon—voted in favor of the bill and Republicans unanimously opposed it in what looks to be a preview of the partisan divide in Congress during Biden’s administration. The measure now heads to the Senate, which is expected to take up the measure next week.
The vote, which took place shortly after 2 a.m., came after the Senate’s nonpartisan parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, ruled that the $15 minimum wage increase would have to be dropped from the coronavirus relief bill. The measure is still in the package that the House sent to the Senate in an effort to try to prevent divisions among Democrats considering the increase in the minimum wage is one of the biggest priorities of the progressive wing of the party. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi assured that if the Senate takes out the minimum wage increase Democratic lawmakers would once again approve the revised legislation. “The sooner we pass the bill and it is signed, the sooner we can make the progress that this legislation is all about—saving the lives and the livelihood of the American people,” Pelosi said.
Now that the bill reaches the Senate the real test for Democratic unity begins as every Democrat will have to back the measure. And there is little time for negotiations as Democrats want to make sure Biden signs it before March 14, when enhanced unemployment benefits are scheduled to expire. Even though Democrats largely agree they’ll have to drop the minimum wage increase from the legislation, some are talking about workarounds. One idea that is being thrown around would penalize large corporations that don’t pay workers at least $15 an hour.
The bill that Republicans criticized as too expensive would provide $1,400 direct payments to individuals earning up to $75,000, extend emergency unemployment benefits through August, and increase tax credits for children. It would also provide $350 billion in aid to states, cities, U.S. territories, and tribal governments, boost funding for vaccine distribution and COVID-19 testing, and provide billions in aid to schools and colleges, among others. “This isn’t a relief bill,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California said. “It takes care of Democrats’ political allies, while it fails to deliver for American families.” Rep. John Yarmuth, a Democrat from Kentucky who is the chairman of the Budget Committee, characterized the bill as “an incredible piece of work that deals with the pandemic in all of its manifestations and in a way that will be truly effective.”