White House News
March 11, 2021
$1.9 Trillion COVID Relief Bill Approved in Congress
The House of Representatives passed the much-anticipated $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill along party lines on Wednesday, just days before the Sunday deadline to extend enhanced unemployment benefits which millions of Americans have been relying on over the course of the pandemic. The legislation includes an extension of $300 a week to federal unemployment benefits until September 6. The bill also provides funds for $1,400 direct stimulus payments to Americans, with eligibility for stimulus payments capped at $80,000 for single individuals and $160,000 for married couples.
President Biden said before the bill was passed that he expects the direct payments to begin as soon as this month. The legislation also includes an expansion of the child tax credit as well as rental and utility assistance and gives $350 billion in aid to state and local governments whose finances were crippled by the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, the bill puts more money into coronavirus testing and vaccine distribution and provides K–12 schools and higher-education institutions with $130 billion to help them reopen safely.
Progressives in the House were incensed over several changes made by the Senate to the relief bill, including reducing the unemployment boost from $400 to $300 a week, sharply limiting the number of Americans eligible to receive a direct stimulus payment, and stripping language that would have raised the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. The changes were made in the Senate after moderate Democrats, particularly Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Krysten Sinema of Arizona, demanded that the changes be made before they could vote in favor of the bill. But despite the changes, liberals in the House voted in favor of the legislation after Rep. Pramila Jayapal, chair of the House Progressive Caucus, told reporters that she would support it. “I don’t think that the changes the Senate made were good policy or good politics,” Jayapal said. “However, they were relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, with the exception, of course, in the $15 minimum wage.”
Democrats have said the legislation will cut child poverty and assist families in being able to afford food and rent as the US economy continues its recovery from the dampening effects of the coronavirus. As of mid-February, more than 18 million people were still receiving some form of unemployment benefits, although that number has been dropping.
Democrats have been touting the bill as a masterpiece of legislation that will play a key role on the road to economic recovery. “This legislation represents the boldest action taken on behalf of the American people since the Great Depression,” House Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Pete Aguilar said.
Republicans were staunchly opposed to the massive bill, arguing that the US economy has already been showing signs of life and that passing a new, trillion-dollar relief bill was an unnecessary move that will sink the United States further into crushing debt. Plus, Republicans say, the legislation provides billions in funds to progressive pet projects that have nothing to do with COVID. “We know for sure that it includes provisions that are not targeted—they’re not temporary, they’re not related to COVID—and it didn’t have to be this way,” said House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney. “We could have had a bill that was a fraction of the cost of this one; it could have gotten bipartisan approval and support.”
Despite not a single Republican in either the House or Senate voting in favor of the bill, Democrats still claimed that the bill was bipartisan, pointing to support from some Republican mayors across the country as proof of its bipartisanship. “This is bipartisan legislation… To me it is the best piece of bipartisan legislation that I’ve seen here in a long, long time,” said House Majority Whip James Clyburn.
In contrast, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell blasted the legislation as a “wish list from progressives.” “Democrats decided their top priority wasn’t pandemic relief,” he said. “It was their Washington wish list. It was jamming through unrelated policy changes they couldn’t pass honestly. A colossal missed opportunity for our nation.”