The Democrat-led House passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan on Wednesday on the strength of its slim majority, 220-211, setting President Joe Biden up for a signing Friday after his first prime-time address Thursday night.
House and Senate Republicans have unanimously opposed the package, calling it a bloated bill crammed with liberal policies at a time the COVID-19 pandemic is becoming manageable and the economic downturn might be easing. One Democrat voted against the bill, Rep. Jared Golden, D-Maine.
"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 released shortly after the bill passed the House.
An SSRS Poll released Wednesday found 61% of Americans approve of the bill, however, and many U.S. households will get money after it is signed into law.
The bill provides up to $1,400 in direct payments to many Americans, extends emergency unemployment benefits, and allocates hundreds of billions for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments and to schools, state and local governments, and ailing industries from airlines to concert halls. An eligible family of 4, for example, gets $5,600 in a direct payment, which could come days after Biden's signature.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at the daily press briefing on Wednesday that Biden plans to travel the country to promote the spending programs before returning to the White House on Friday to officially sign the bill.
The $1.9 trillion in spending amounts to $5,487 per American, Republicans noted during a 2-hour debate that dragged to around 3 hours.
Republicans also argued just 9% of the spending is targeted for COVID-19 relief and a large portion of the $1.9 trillion is deferred, diminishing the Democrats' argument this relief is immediate and urgently needed.
In addition to massive payments to schools – without forcing them to return to in-person learning, Republicans lamented – included in the bill are expanded tax credits during the next year for children, child care and family leave plus spending for renters, feeding programs and people's utility bills. Also, there is aid for farmers of color and pension systems, and subsidies for consumers buying health insurance and states expanding Medicaid coverage for lower earners.
"It's a remarkable, historic, transformative piece of legislation which goes a very long way to crushing the virus and solving our economic crisis," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Tuesday.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene, R-Ga., used a procedural tactic to delay the final debate on the bill Wednesday, calling for a vote to adjourn and forcing all 438 members to cast a vote to keep the House in session.
Frustrated members, including 41 Republicams, struck down her motion in a 149-235 vote.
"I just called for a Motion To Adjourn to stop Congress from passing the $1.9 trillion spending bill. The GOP should be fighting to stop it. Unfortunately some Republicans are voting with Democrats to continue business as usual."
For Biden and Democrats, the bill is essentially a canvas on which they have 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.
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, and many politicians on both sides of the aisle, care little that the national debt is soaring toward $22 trillion.
But despite passing its own massive bills during the Trump administration, the GOP used the very expansiveness of the American Rescue Plan as a chief talking point.
"It's not focused on COVID relief," No. 2 House GOP leader Steve Scalise, R-La., said. "It's focused on pushing more of the far-left agenda."
Republicans noted there is still $1 trillion left unspent from the past bipartisan COVID-19 relief bills passed during Trump's tenure.
The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll found last week 70% of Americans back Biden's response to the virus, including a hefty 44% of Republicans.
Yet the bill's pathway has underscored Democrats' challenges as they seek to build a legislative record to persuade voters to keep them running Congress in next year's midterm elections.
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.
Moderates forced tightened eligibility for the $1,400 stimulus checks, now phased out completely for individuals earning at least $80,000 and couples making $160,000 or more. The House's initial extension of the soon-to-end $400 weekly emergency jobless payments, paid on top of state benefits, was trimmed by the Senate to $300 and will now stop in early September.
Sen. Joe Manchin, a moderate West Virginia Democrat, was a leading holdout in the middle of talks that resulted in curbing all of those initiatives. The Senate approved the bill on a party-line 50-49 vote Saturday.
Dropping the minimum-wage boost was "infuriating," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., chair of the roughly 100-member Congressional Progressive Caucus. But she called the overall bill "incredibly bold," adding, "It hits all of our progressive priorities — putting money in people's pockets, shots in arms, unemployment insurance, child care, schools."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
Eric Mack has been a writer and editor at Newsmax since 2016. He is a 1998 Syracuse University journalism graduate and a New York Press Association award-winning writer.
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