House lawmakers are set to vote as soon as Tuesday on a roughly $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, putting President Biden on track to sign his first major legislative accomplishment into law by the end of the week.
Dubbed the American Rescue Plan, the package authorizes $1,400 checks to millions of low- and middle-income Americans, bolsters families by providing new child tax benefits, boosts unemployment payments for workers still out of a job and authorizes a wide array of additional programs in an attempt to shepherd a swift, equal recovery to one of the worst economic crises in a generation.
A vote could happen Tuesday or perhaps Wednesday morning, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters, adding the chamber is waiting for the Senate to transmit the legislation it amended. The timeline puts Congress on track to adopt the stimulus package before millions of Americans are set to lose unemployment benefits March 14. It also opens the door for the U.S. government to start sending one-time checks to a large number of families “by the end of the month,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday.
Biden, for his part, appeared at a veterans medical center Monday, the start of what is shaping up to be a week of coronavirus-related events. He also aims to give his first national televised address Thursday night that is expected to touch on the emergency coronavirus aid, Psaki said at her daily briefing.
Not a single Republican voted for the $1.9 trillion stimulus — neither the earlier version that cleared the House in February, nor the one passed by the Senate on Saturday. To woo centrist Democratic lawmakers, the party’s Senate leaders proffered some late changes that removed from the House-passed version an increase to the federal minimum wage, while lessening the amount of enhanced weekly benefits for workers still collecting unemployment.
The alterations initially appeared to frustrate more left-leaning lawmakers in the Democratic caucus, creating the potential for friction in the House, where Democrats only have five votes to spare. But liberal leaders appeared to bless the measure anyway, with Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the chief of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, saying in a statement Saturday that it is “exactly what economists say is needed to jump-start our economy and the labor market.”
“Importantly, despite the fact that we believe any weakening of the House provisions were bad policy and bad politics, the reality is that the final amendments were relatively minor concessions,” she said.
On Monday, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen stressed the need to avoid “permanent scarring” in the economy from the pandemic. Speaking with the IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva for International Women’s Day, she said the concern is particularly acute at a time when women are dropping out of the labor force in high numbers as schools close.
“I think there’s a prospect with an all-out effort on vaccination and reopening schools that we can really get the labor market back on track this year or next year to avoid what we had after the financial crisis, which was almost a decade before the economy ever got back to full employment,” Yellen said. “We don’t want to see that this time.”
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