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Biden $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill nears finish line in Congress

House poised to take up legislation Wednesday morning, send to Biden to sign

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) praised the American Rescue Plan on March 9 ahead of its expected passage. (Video: The Washington Post)
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The House is poised to approve a sweeping $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill Wednesday and send it to President Biden to sign, a major early legislative victory for the new president and the Democrats who control Congress.

Despite united GOP opposition and a narrow Democratic majority, House Democratic leaders expressed confidence Tuesday that they will have votes to spare. House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said he was “110 percent confident” of success.

Democrats touted the breadth of the legislation, which they have begun to frame not just as a bill to attack the coronavirus pandemic and economic downturn but as a generational anti-poverty measure.

“This legislation represents the boldest action taken on behalf of the American people since the Great Depression,” House Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) said Tuesday.

“This is seismic legislation,” said Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.).

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Republicans are using much the same argument against the bill, saying it is largely unconnected to the covid crisis.

“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 (R-Wyo.). “We could have had a bill that was a fraction of the cost of this one, it could have gotten bipartisan approval and support.”

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Final House passage of the legislation would come after the Senate approved the bill Saturday afternoon following a marathon all-night session. Along the way moderate Senate Democrats pushed some changes opposed by liberals in the House, including narrowing eligibility for stimulus checks and keeping emergency federal unemployment benefits at their current $300-per-week level instead of increasing them to $400 per week as initially proposed by Biden. A $15 minimum wage also was struck from the bill.

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Nonetheless leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus praised the bill, which Democratic leaders are calling a historic anti-poverty measure in part because of a boosted child tax credit that will provide a monthly benefit for many needy families. House Democrats are already talking about trying to make that benefit permanent.

The legislation will also send $350 billion to cities and states and $130 billion to schools to help them reopen, as well as devote billions more to a national vaccination program, expanded coronavirus testing, food stamps, rental assistance and more.

Final passage would come ahead of a prime-time speech Biden is planning for Thursday to mark the first anniversary of the nation plunging into widespread shutdowns to combat the devastating coronavirus pandemic, which decimated the economy and has killed more than 520,000 Americans. Although the economy has shown signs of rebounding, millions remain unemployed, with the poorest Americans hit hardest.

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Not a single Republican in the House or Senate has voted in favor of the legislation, a notable outcome for Biden’s first legislative venture given his campaign themes of unity and bipartisanship. But congressional Democrats argue it is bipartisan anyway, pointing to support from GOP mayors and other elected officials outside of Washington.

“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 E. Clyburn (D-S.C.).

Two House Democrats — Kurt Schrader of Oregon and Jared Golden of Maine — voted against the legislation when it first passed the House, before it got sent to the Senate where changes were made that require a second House vote. Schrader has announced that he will vote in favor this time around, saying his concerns about the legislation’s size and scope are outweighed by the help he believes it will bring to people in his state. That would leave Golden — who has argued that Democrats should have pursued a narrow vaccine funding bill out of the gate — as the lone defection.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) convened her leadership team for a news conference Tuesday afternoon to take a victory lap on the legislation even before its passage.

“I’m so excited I just can’t hide it,” Pelosi said.