Washington – President Joe Biden on Saturday welcomed the overnight passage by the US House of Representatives of an enormous, $1.9 trillion (R28.6tr) coronavirus relief package, saying it moves the country closer to full Covid-19 vaccination and economic recovery.
The package passed the House just after 2:00am on Saturday, in a 219 to 212 vote, with not one Republican vote, and moves next week to the Senate.
“I hope it will receive quick action,” Biden said in a brief address from the White House.
“We have no time to waste. If we act now, decisively, quickly and boldly, we can finally get ahead of this virus.”
The vote in the House meant that “we’re one step closer to vaccinating the nation, we are one step closer to putting $1400 (R21 000) in the pockets of Americans, we’re one step closer to extending unemployment benefits for millions of Americans who are shortly going to lose them.”
He said the bill – which would be the second-largest US stimulus ever, after a $2 trillion package approved in March – would also help schools reopen safely and allow local and state governments to avoid “massive layoffs for essential workers.”
The House vote came just days after the Covid-19 death toll surpassed 500 000 in the United States, the world’s worst total.
Democrats have called the aid package a critical step in supporting millions of families and businesses devastated by the pandemic. It extends unemployment benefits, set to expire mid-March, by about six months.
But Republicans say it is too expensive, fails to target aid payments to those most in need, and could spur damaging inflation.
The administration appears poised to use a special approach requiring only 51 votes in the 100-seat Senate – meaning the vote of every Democrat, plus a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Kamala Harris, would be required.
But progressives suffered a major setback when a key Senate official ruled Thursday that the final version of the bill in that chamber could not include a minimum wage hike.
Biden campaigned extensively on raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour (R225), from the $7.25 (R110) rate that has stood since 2009. Progressives have been pushing the raise as a Democratic priority.
In his remarks on Saturday, the president made no mention of the issue, a source of discord within the party.
Most Republicans, and a few Democrats, opposed the higher wage, so having it stripped from the Senate version of the legislation could actually ease its passage.