Published: Mar 11, 2021, 07.30 AM(IST)
The US House of Representatives has given a final approval to a sweeping $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill that gives President Joe Biden his first major victory in office.
The economic stimulus measure — one of the largest in American history — provides $400 billion for $1,400 direct payments to most Americans, $350 billion in aid to state and local governments, an expansion of the child tax credit and increased funding for vaccine distribution. Forecasters expect it to supercharge the US economic recovery.
“Help is here,” Biden wrote in a tweet after the vote. He plans to sign the bill on Friday.
Approval by a 220-211 vote in the Democratic-controlled chamber came with zero Republican support after weeks of partisan debate and wrangling in Congress.
The massive spending push is seen as a major driver, coupled with a quickening pace of COVID-19 vaccinations and a slowing infection rate, in a brightening outlook for the economy.
Republicans said the measure was too costly and was packed with wasteful progressive priorities. They said the worst phase of the largest public health crisis in a century has largely passed and the economy is headed toward a rebound.
Democrats were eager to get the final bill to Biden’s desk for his signature before current enhanced federal unemployment benefits expire on Sunday.
The bill is apparently very popular with the public. A Reuters/Ipsos national opinion poll, conducted March 8-9, showed that 70 per cent of Americans support the plan, including majorities of Democrats and Republicans. Among Republicans, five out of 10 say they support the plan, while nine out of 10 Democrats supported it.
The legislation could have high stakes for both parties. If it succeeds in giving the economy a major boost, the plan could improve Democrats’ political fortunes as they attempt to hold their slim majorities in Congress in the 2022 midterm elections.
Only one House Democrat, Jared Golden of Maine, voted against the package, saying its high borrowing costs endangered the recovery.
The version passed by the Senate in an marathon weekend session removed a $15-per-hour federal minimum wage increase by 2025; tightened the eligibility for $1,400 direct payments, capping them at those earning below $80,000, cut the unemployment insurance payment to $300 per week from the House’s $400 and targeted some of the state and local government aid to smaller communities.
States that voted for Trump in the November election are due to get a larger amount of education and child-care aid per resident than those that backed Biden, according to estimates from two congressional committees.
Residents of Republican-leaning states, which tend to have lower household incomes, also are likely to get larger stimulus checks and tax breaks as well, according to an independent research group.
With the COVID-19 aid bill now completed, attention turns to Biden’s next round of major legislation, including massive infrastructure investments, immigration reforms and climate change initiatives.