WASHINGTON – The latest COVID-19 relief package has now passed the Senate and House, and will soon be on it’s way to President Joe Biden’s desk.
The legislation, dubbed the American Rescue Plan, includes $1,400 stimulus checks, billions of dollars for vaccines, and money to reopen schools.
While Biden and Democrats are cheering the bill as a victory in the quest to fight the impacts of the coronavirus crisis, Republicans say the bill is wasteful and full of provisions that don’t address the virus. No Republicans vote for the bill in either chamber of Congress..
Here are some takeaways of the bill’s passage through Congress and what happens next:
First partisan piece of COVID relief legislation
The American Rescue plan made it through Congress with only Democratic support, making it stand out from the bipartisan COVID relief plans Congress passed over the last year.
Though the two sides squabbled over priorities in each of the previous packages that cleared Congress, all were approved with members of both parties in support – except the one approved Wednesday.
Live updates: Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus plan expected to get final passage Wednesday
The final vote Saturday in the Senate was 50-49 with all Republicans voting against the measure and all members of the Senate Democratic caucus supporting it. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, was not present for the vote. In the House, it didn’t earn a single Republican vote in the two times the bill came to a vote.
Biden ran on his ability to broker bipartisan efforts on Capitol Hill, drawing on his 36 years in the Senate and eight years as vice president. Republicans have viewed the bill as a betrayal of the bipartisanship Biden embraced and spoke of during his campaign.
‘Socialism’: GOP reactions to legislation passing
Republican lawmakers described the stimulus plan as a “clunker,” “bad politics” and “wildly expensive.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., described it as a “laundry list of leftwing priorities” that “do not meet the needs of American families.”
“It is very liberal,” he said. “They called this the most progressive piece of legislation in history. For those who are watching, progressive means socialism.”
Let’s be clear → This isn’t a rescue bill. It’s a laundry list of leftwing priorities that predate the pandemic and do not meet the needs of American families. https://t.co/Hmjmc7Oesk
Rep. Jason Smith, R-Mo., called the legislation a “progressive wish list forced down by the Democrat party.”
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., said in a statement he was “glad to know” his constituents would get a stimulus payment and other benefits of the bill, but explained why he voted against it.
“But the legislation passed today is one of the largest expenditures in American history–with spending unrelated to the COVID-19 pandemic – and Republicans were left out of all negotiations,” he continued, saying the legislation “still manages to spend way too much money”.
Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., the House Republican Conference chair, said in a statement the bill “does far more harm than good, and the damage it does will only make our recovery efforts more difficult.”
1 Democrat voted against the bill twice
The bill sailed through the House despite complaints from progressive Democrats who believed too many concessions were made to moderate Democrats when the bill passed Senate on Saturday.
The final vote was 220-211, with one Democrat — Rep. Jared Golden of Maine — opposing it, saying it would borrow and spend far more than is needed.
“Borrowing and spending hundreds of billions more in excess of meeting the most urgent needs poses a risk to both our economic recovery and the priorities I would like to work with the Biden administration to achieve, like rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure and fixing our broken and unaffordable healthcare system,” Golden said in a statement on Wednesday.
Golden also opposed the House’s first vote on the legislation in late February before it went to the Senate. The bill had to go through the House one last time because of changes made in the Senate.
Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., voted against the first bill in February, but supported the Senate’s modified legislation during Wednesday’s vote.
Republicans tried to slow the bill down
With Democrats controlling both chambers of Congress, some Republicans pulled out all the stops in attempts to delay voting on the legislation.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., forced the Senate to begin reading all 628 pages of Biden’s COVID bill aloud on the Senate floor Thursday.
Johnson said his tactic was about “educating” the American public on what was in the $1.9 trillion package, which he has derided as full of provisions unrelated to COVID relief. The entire process took more than 10 hours.
Then senators were allowed to bring up amendments to the bill. The rapid succession of votes on each proposed change is dubbed a “vote-a-rama.”
Republican Senators filed nearly 600 amendments, but only brought forth a fraction of those for debate. It was enough to draw out the voting session for more than 24 hours, keeping senators voting from from Friday morning into Saturday.
One issue, unemployment insurance, was stalled by Democratic senators for most of the day Friday as they negotiated behind closed doors, focusing on the vote from Sen. Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat from West Virginia who expressed interest in plans from Republicans and Democrats.
During the House’s session on Wednesday, before lawmakers began debating on the legislation, Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene forced the House to delay debating and voting on the stimulus bill by forcing a vote to adjourn House proceedings ahead of the debate. The effort failed.
A big win for Biden
Signing COVID-19 relief has been Biden’s chief legislative priority since he began his presidency.
He’s stressed the aid is sorely needed for Americans battling the economic impacts of the pandemic and repeatedly pushed for Congress to pass the bill quickly.
On the campaign trail, and in the first hours of his presidency, Biden promised to pass massive relief in Congress.
In announcing the American Rescue Plan on the same day as his inauguration, Biden called the smaller, bipartisan legislation passed in December “a down payment.”
The White House described the new legislation as “ambitious, but achievable, and will rescue the American economy and start beating the virus.”
Several polls show the latest package enjoys wide popularity, particularly the direct payments to Americans.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., praised the bill as part of Biden’s legacy, calling it the “Biden American Rescue Plan.”
“We will get to work immediately to deliver lifesaving resources springing from this bill as soon as it is passed and signed as we join President Biden. … in his promise that at last help is on the way,” she said.
Republicans successfully changed portions of the bill
Republicans in the Senate were successful in changing several key portions of the legislation.
Some House Democrats griped over the modifications made to the legislation – particularly the removal of a $15 federal minimum wage hike – when the bill came back to their chamber for a vote Wednesday. But those peeved progressives set aside their misgivings, and approved the Senate changes.
A federal hourly minimum wage increase was included in the version of the relief bill that was approved by the House last month. But it was stripped from the Senate version after the Senate parliamentarian found it to be against budget rules. Senate Democrats’ attempt to reinsert a $15 minimum wage provision Friday also failed when eight Democratic caucus members voted with all Senate Republicans against Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ proposal.
Like the House version, the Senate bill includes $1,400 stimulus checks to Americans but it lowered the income eligibility for taxpayers getting the payments. Under the Senate bill, the checks phase out for individuals making $80,000 per year and $160,000 for couples.
Roughly 8 million fewer households will get a check under the Senate bill compared with what the House passed, according to an analysis from the Tax Policy Center.
The House bill extended federal unemployment benefits through August and increased that aid to $400 a week, but the final bill only extends the enhanced unemployment benefits through August at $300 a week.
What happens next?
The House vote was the final legislative hurdle for the legislation.
It now goes to Biden, who will sign the bill into law Friday, the White House said.
“This legislation is about giving the backbone of this nation – the essential workers, the working people who built this country, the people who keep this country going – a fighting chance,” Biden said in a statement following the vote.
“On Friday, I look forward to signing the American Rescue Plan into law at the White House – a people’s law at the people’s house.”
After the bill is signed into law, the IRS may begin delivering stimulus checks within one to two weeks.
“Middle-class Western New York households will be getting a $1,400 check in the mail in about two weeks,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “They should get them by the end of March, so it’ll be a nice Easter present for everybody.”
Here are the major parts of the legislation
- Provides most Americans making up to $75,000 a year with another direct payment – this time for $1,400.
- Sends $350 billion to state and local governments whose revenue has declined because of COVID-19 social distancing measures.
- Allocates $130 billion to help fully reopen schools and colleges
- Allots $30 billion to help renters and landlords weather economic losses
- Sets aside $50 billion for small-business assistance
- Appropriate $160 billion for vaccine development, distribution and related needs
- Allocates $14 billion for eligible airlines
- Establishes a $28.6 billion “revitalization fund” for restaurants that will help them cover pandemic-related losses. Businesses will be eligible for up to $5 million each.
Contributing: Michael Collins, Nicholas Wu, Sarah Elbeshbishi, Christal Hayes, Ledyard King
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