Tuesday, May 18

House of Representatives to vote on virus relief, Biden on cusp of triumph

Congress is poised to pass a landmark $ 1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, putting President Joe Biden on the cusp of an early win that advances Democratic priorities and shows the unity his party will need to forge. future victories.

The House was expected to give final congressional approval on Wednesday to the package, which aims to fulfill Democrats’ campaign promises to beat the pandemic and revive the ailing economy. Republicans in the House and Senate have unanimously opposed the package as bloated, laden with liberal policies and negligent. of the signs that the dual crisis is improving.

“It is a remarkable, historic and transformative piece of legislation that goes a long way in crushing the virus and solving our economic crisis,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said Tuesday.

For Biden and the Democrats, the bill is essentially a canvas on which they have painted their core beliefs – that government programs can be a benefit, not a nightmare, for millions of people and that spending huge sums on such efforts can be a cure. it is not a curse. The measure follows Democrats’ priorities so closely that many rank it among the top achievements of their careers, and despite its slim majorities in Congress, there was never any real suspense about its fate.

They were also empowered by three dynamics: their limitless control of the White House and Congress, polls showing strong support for Biden’s approach, and a time when most voters don’t care that the national debt falls. is shooting into the stratosphere a figure of 22 trillion dollars. Neither party seems to be very concerned about the rise of red ink, except when the other is using it to fund their priorities, be it Democratic spending or Republican tax cuts.

A dominant feature of the bill is the initiatives that make it one of the largest federal efforts in years to help low- and middle-income families. Included are expanded tax credits for the next year for children, child care and family leave, plus renter expenses, food programs and utility bills.

The measure provides up to $ 1,400 direct payments to most Americans, extended emergency unemployment benefits, and hundreds of billions for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, schools, state and local governments and struggling industries, from airlines to wards. concert. There is help for farmers of color and pension systems, and subsidies for consumers who buy health insurance and states that expand Medicaid coverage for low-income people.

Its very breadth is a main topic of conversation for the Republican Party.

“It is not focused on COVID relief. It’s focused on pushing the far-left agenda further, “said House Republican No. 2 Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana.

The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll found last week that 70% of Americans support Biden’s response to the virus, including a sizable 44% of Republicans.

However, the bill’s path has underscored the challenges for Democrats as they seek to build a legislative record to persuade voters to continue leading Congress in next year’s election.

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

That’s almost no leeway for a party that ranges from West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin on the conservative side to progressives like Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez.

Progressives had to accept big concessions on the bill to solidify moderate support. The most painful was reducing the federal minimum wage increase approved by the House to $ 15 per hour by 2025.

The moderates forced stricter eligibility for the $ 1,400 stimulus checks, now completely eliminated for people earning $ 80,000 and couples earning $ 160,000. The House’s initial extension of the soon-ending $ 400 a week in emergency unemployment payments, paid in addition to state benefits, was cut by the Senate to $ 300 and will now stop in early September.

Manchin was a leader in resistance and in the midst of talks that resulted in halting all those initiatives. The Senate approved the bill on Saturday with a vote of 50-49 on the party line.

Eliminating the minimum wage increase was “infuriating,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Washington Democrat, chair of the roughly 100-member Congressional Progressive Caucus. But she called the bill overall “incredibly bold” and added: “It affects all of our progressive priorities: putting money in people’s pockets, shooting guns, unemployment insurance, child care, schools.”

The independent Tax Policy Center said the bill passed by the Senate would grant nearly 70% of this year’s tax breaks to households making $ 91,000 or less. In contrast, the Trump-era Republican tax bill gave nearly half of its 2018 cuts to the top 5% of households making about $ 308,000, said the research center, which is run by the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution, of liberal tendency.

However, keeping the Democrats together will not be easier as the party tries to advance the rest of its agenda. There are dividing lines within the party on 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 review the minimum wage increase, and in the midst of all this, Republicans are already showing that they are ready to strike.

The American Action Network, linked to Republican leaders in the House of Representatives, said it launched digital ads in mostly moderate districts calling the aid bill “a freight train of frivolous spending to fund its liberal cronies.” .

The bill was approved by the Senate under budget rules that prevented Republicans from launching filibusters, which require 60 votes for most measures. That process won’t be available for much legislation down the road, but either way, any Democratic defections to the Senate will make most bills unsuccessful.

Even with their procedural advantage, the Democrats’ path to victory in the Senate was plagued with delays. Senator Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, forced employees to spend nearly 11 hours reading the entire 628-page bill; negotiations with Manchin on unemployment benefits lasted about nine hours; and the votes on three dozen amendments, practically all doomed to lose, took an additional 12 hours.


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