ALL NEWS

Congress OKs $1.9T virus relief bill

Mar 10, 2021, 12:17 PM | Updated: 12:18 pm
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., walks from the House floor, during the vote on the Democrat's...
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., walks from the House floor, during the vote on the Democrat's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, March 10, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress has approved a landmark $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill Wednesday, as President Joe Biden and Democrats claimed a triumph on a bill that marshals the government’s spending might against twin pandemic and economic crises that have upended a nation.

The House gave final congressional approval to the sweeping package by a near party line 220-211 vote precisely seven weeks after Biden entered the White House and four days after the Senate passed the bill without a single Republican vote. GOP lawmakers opposed the package as bloated, crammed with liberal policies and heedless of signs the crises are easing.

Most noticeable to many Americans are provisions to provide up to $1,400 direct payments this year to most adults and extend $300 per week emergency unemployment benefits into early September. But the legislation goes far beyond that.

The measure addresses Democrats’ campaign promises and Biden’s top initial priority of easing a one-two punch that first hit the country a year ago. Since then, many Americans have been relegated to hermit-like lifestyles in their homes to avoid a disease that’s killed over 525,000 people — about the population of Wichita, Kansas — and plunged the economy to its deepest depths since the Great Depression.

“Today we have a decision to make of tremendous consequence,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., “a decision that will make a difference for millions of Americans, saving lives and livelihoods.”

For Biden and Democrats, the bill is essentially a canvas on which they’ve painted their core beliefs — that government programs can be a benefit, not a bane, to millions of people and that spending huge sums on such efforts can be a cure, not a curse. The measure so closely tracks Democrats’ priorities that several rank it with the top achievements of their careers, and despite their slender congressional majorities there was never real suspense over its fate.

They were also empowered by three dynamics: their unfettered control of the White House and Congress, polls showing robust support for Biden’s approach and a moment when most voters care little that the national debt is soaring toward a stratospheric $22 trillion. Neither party seems much troubled by surging red ink, either, except when the other is using it to finance its priorities, be they Democratic spending or GOP tax cuts.

Republicans noted that they’ve overwhelmingly supported five previous relief bills that Congress has approved since the pandemic struck a year ago, when divided government under then-President Donald Trump forced the parties to negotiate. They said this one solely reflected Democratic goals by setting aside money for family planning programs and federal workers who take leave to cope with COVID-19 and failing to require that shuttered schools accepting aid reopen their doors.

“If you’re a member of the swamp, you do pretty well under this bill. But for the American people, it means serious problems immediately on the horizon,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., referring to the added federal borrowing the measure will force.

A dominant feature of the 628-page bill is initiatives making it one of the biggest federal efforts in years to assist lower- and middle-income families. Included are expanded tax credits over the next year for children, child care and family leave — some of them credits that Democrats have signaled they’d like to make permanent — plus spending for renters, feeding programs and people’s utility bills.

Besides the direct payments and jobless-benefit extension, t he measure has hundreds of billions for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, schools, state and local governments and ailing industries from airlines to concert halls. There is aid for farmers of color, pension systems and student borrowers, and subsidies for consumers buying health insurance and states expanding Medicaid coverage for lower earners.

“Who’s going to help? Do we say this is all survival of the fittest? No,” said House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth, D-Ky. “We rise to the occasion. We deliver.”

Underscoring the bill’s focus, the independent Tax Policy Center said the measure would give almost 70% of its tax breaks this year to households earning $91,000 or less. In contrast, the Trump-era GOP tax bill gave nearly half its 2018 reductions to the top 5% of households earning around $308,000, said the research center, which is run by the liberal-leaning Urban Institute and Brookings Institution.

The measure was approved amid promising though mixed signs of recovery.

Americans are getting vaccinated at increasingly robust rates, though that is tempered by coronavirus variants and people’s growing impatience with curbing social activities. The economy created an unexpectedly strong 379,000 jobs last month, though there remain 9.5 million fewer than before the pandemic struck.

Republicans said the country will pay a price for the extra spending.

“It’s certainly good politics to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to hand you a check for $1,400,” said Rep. Tom Rice of South Carolina. “But what they don’t talk about is what this bill costs.”

An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll found last week that 70% of Americans back Biden’s response to the virus, including a hefty 44% of Republicans. According to a CNN poll released Wednesday, the relief bill is backed by 61% of Americans, including nearly all Democrats, 58% of independents and 26% of Republicans.

Yet until November 2022, when control of the Senate and House will be at stake, it will be uncertain whether voters will reward Democrats, punish them for the expenditures or make decisions on other, unforeseen issues.

The bill’s pathway has underscored Democrats’ challenges as they seek to build a legislative record that will persuade voters to support them.

Democrats control the Senate, split 50-50, only because Vice President Kamala Harris gives them the winning vote in tied roll calls. They have just a 10-vote advantage in the House.

That’s almost no wiggle room for a party that ranges from West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin on the conservative side to progressives like New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

On the relief bill, progressives had to swallow big concessions to solidify moderate support.

The most painful was dropping the House-approved federal minimum-wage increase to $15 hourly by 2025. Moderates also succeeded in trimming the emergency jobless benefits, which in an earlier version were $400 weekly, and phasing out the $1,400 stimulus checks completely for earners at lower levels than originally proposed.

Keeping Democrats united won’t get easier as the party tries advancing the rest of its agenda. There are fault lines within the party over priorities like immigration, health care and taxes.

At some point it seems likely that progressives will draw their own lines in the sand. They are already demanding that the party revisit the minimum-wage boost.

Today’s Top Stories

All News

President Joe Biden is pictured speaking at a podium...
Steve Contorno, CNN

Biden to tour Ian damage in Florida with DeSantis feud on hold for now

Dave and Dujanovic are joined by ABC News Correspondent in Washington to talk about President Biden and First Lady vistiting Florida after the hurricane. Listen Live at 9:30 a.m.   Originally Published: 05 OCT 22 05:00 ET Updated: 05 OCT 22 09:57 ET (CNN) — President Joe Biden will visit Florida on Wednesday to see first-hand […]
9 hours ago
Signs in yards and area at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon regarding the proposed gondola in ...
Allie Litzinger, Amie Schaeffer

In narrow vote, Salt Lake County Council votes no on proposed gondola

In September, Utah Department of Transportation recommended the gondola as a means to help ski traffic congestion.
9 hours ago
Utah disaster funding earthquake study...
Simone Seikaly

What Utah can expect from federal funding after a disaster like Ian

What can those in Utah expect from federal disaster funding when a natural disaster on par with Hurricane Ian hits home?
9 hours ago
Special Olympics Unified soccer teams compete for championship....
Waverly Golden

Special Olympics Unified soccer teams compete for state championship title

This afternoon Utah’s top 16 Special Olympics Unified soccer teams competed for the state championship title at the RSL soccer stadium.
9 hours ago
A surface-to-surface missile is fired into the sea off the east coast in this handout picture provi...
Yoonjung Seo, Caitlin Hu, Eric Cheung and Brad Lendon, CNN

US and South Korea test-fire missiles in continued response after North Korea launch

In response to a recent test missile launch by North Korea, the US and South Korea launched four missiles off the Korean Peninsula Wednesday morning.
9 hours ago
Deputies with the Duchesne County Sheriff's Office are investigating a new scam to hit the area and...
Mark Jones

New scam in Duchesne County includes threat on life of a family member

Authorities in Duchesne County are warning people to be on the lookout for a new scam in which a caller threatens to kill a family member if certain financial information isn't provided.
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Young woman receiving laser treatment...
Form Derm Spa

How facial plastic surgery and skincare are joining forces

Facial plastic surgery is not only about looking good but about feeling good too. The medical team at Form Spa are trained to help you reach your aesthetic outcomes through surgery and through skincare and dermatology, too.
large group of friends tohether in a park having fun...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

What differentiates BYU’s MBA program from other MBA programs

Commitment to service is at the heart of BYU’s MBA program, which makes it stand out among other MBA programs across the country.
a worker with a drill in an orange helmet installs a door in the house...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

Home improvement tip: Increase the value of your home by weatherproofing doors

Make sure your home is comfortable before the winter! Seasonal maintenance keeps your home up to date. Read our tips on weatherproofing doors.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
A paper reading IRS, internal revenue service is pictured...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
Congress OKs $1.9T virus relief bill