The House of Representatives is voting on President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus bill, which is expected to pass following a grueling, monthlong fight on Capitol Hill.
The American Rescue Plan Act gives Americans earning less than $75,000 per year $1,400 stimulus checks and extends a federal unemployment supplement of $300 per week through Sept. 6.
But the bill is expected to receive no Republican votes in the House after a party-line 50-49 vote in the Senate on Saturday.
Republicans say the bill is wasteful as the pandemic ends with increasing vaccination and warn it could spur inflation. They specifically take issue with money being doled out to local governments and the fact that funds from the last stimulus bill have not yet been spent.
But Democrats said it would ensure that the US economy doesn’t stagnate and will cut poverty.
“Thankfully the misers are no longer in charge and help is on the way,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), former chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.
But House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) slammed the bill as “socialism” and said money appropriated by the measure isn’t truly free — cuing up a debate over the bill’s legacy that’s likely to influence the 2022 midterm elections.
“We warn people on the internet about email scams, like the ones with those emails where you get a promise you’ll get millions of dollars. But first you have to wire them some money. It’s exactly what’s happening here today,” McCarthy said.
“They’re telling the American public, first, give me $5,000. I know you have to work harder. But what I’m going to do — because this is how socialism works — the Democrats are now going to decide who should get that money. And you know what, at least they give it to the people they respect the most.”
He added that “it showers money on special interests, but spends less than 9 percent on actually defeating the virus.”
McCarthy said that accounting for historical inflation, World War II cost the US government $4.8 trillion, but legislation passed to address the COVID-19 pandemic will cost $5.5 trillion after the bill.
“Will this help the people get back to work? Nope. Will this help students get back in the classroom? Nope. But will it help vaccines get those who want it? Nope. But will it help take care of 92 percent of San Francisco’s budget deficit? Oh yes, it will. Yes, it will. It just throws out money without accountability, even though there are a trillion dollars sitting there right now that have already been appropriated,” McCarthy said.
“The 12 terrible months the American worker has struggled through lockdowns, sacrificed through closures and suffered through mandates — they persevered through it all. And now their government wants to take $5,000 more of it to make sure the federal employee that wasn’t laid off, the state employee that wasn’t laid off gets bonuses.”
But bill supporters said Democrats were elected to lead Congress and the White House, with consequences for policy.
“The January 6 insurrectionists did not win. The American government, the people of the United States won with a Democratic government that has come to the rescue with the American Rescue Plan,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas).
“The long lines will stop with $20 billion for vaccines, cash-strapped Americans will get $1,400 and extended unemployment, we will recognize that our children will get back to school with $130 billion.”
The bill is being rammed through Congress with only Democratic votes under special budget reconciliation rules that allow for a bare majority in the Senate rather than the usual 60-vote supermajority.
The package contains $350 billion in state and local aid and $75 billion for COVID-19 vaccination, testing and other pandemic medical supplies. It offers more than $120 billion for K-12 schools, but the Congressional Budget Office estimates that more than 90 percent won’t be spent in 2021 because funds approved for schools last year haven’t been spent.
The bill grants $1,400 stimulus checks to adults who earn up to $75,000 per year, with smaller amounts for earners between $75,000 and $80,000. An extra $1,400 check is awarded for each dependent child, but in a change from past stimulus checks, the income limits apply to checks for kids too.
Parents also gain a new annual tax credit of $3,000 to $3,600 per child in the bill, up from $2,000 per child currently.
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) said the bill represented an “ideological revolution” for its treatment of children for tax purposes. The increased child benefit previously was pushed by Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah).
“This bill is historic because it buries the myth that the cause of childhood poverty is a lack of character or a lack of hard work, or a lack of love. The bill affirms the simple truth that the cause of poverty is a lack of income to cover basic necessities,” Khanna said.
“No child in America should be deprived of food, of medicine, of clothing or of education because of the accident of birth. That is what this bill stands for. It represents and marks an ideological revolution on behalf of justice.”
The bill also establishes 15 weeks of paid leave for federal workers, including US Postal Service employees, for COVID-19-related reasons, including care of kids who don’t have school or daycare, and creates a new $25 billion grant program specifically for bars and restaurants that will compensate for lost revenue.
Senate wrangling watered down some of the bill’s provisions. In a nod to more conservative Democrats, the income cap for stimulus checks was lowered to $80,000, down from $100,000 in the original House-passed version of the bill. A weekly unemployment supplement was lowered from $400 to $300.
The Senate parliamentarian also ordered that the original House-passed bill be stripped of provisions to increase the national minimum wage to $15 per hour and provide $140 million to a rail project near the district of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) on Wednesday stalled final passage of the bill by forcing a nearly hourlong vote on a motion to adjourn the House of Representatives.
The House had been expected to approve the American Rescue Plan Act around noon, but Greene’s motion forced the lengthy vote due to pandemic restrictions that require few lawmakers to vote at a given time.
The motion to adjourn was defeated 149-235, with 41 Republicans voting against it.
Greene said that “$1.9 trillion in spending is reckless, irresponsible and the wrong thing to do.”
“We still have $1 trillion set aside for COVID relief in spending. There is no need to enslave the American people, our children, our grandchildren, our great-great-grandchildren and generations going forward in more debt,” she said.