On Saturday, February 27th, President Biden urged the Senate to pass his $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package, saying there was “no time to waste.”
The proposed plan would help the country return to normalcy through measures such as enhancing and extending jobless benefits, providing $350 billion to state and local governments, sending $1,400 to many Americans, and funding vaccine distribution.
Early Saturday morning, the bill was approved by the House of Representatives, with a final vote tally of 219-212. No Republicans voted for it, and two Democrats broke rank and opposed the bill, but it passed nonetheless.
Having passed the House, the plan has now advanced to the Senate.
“If we act quickly, decisively and boldly, we can finally get ahead of this virus,” Biden said, shortly after the House passed the bill. “The people of this country have suffered far too much for too long. We need to relieve that suffering.”
Despite the fact that a majority of Americans support the legislation, it does not have bipartisan support in Congress. Considering the narrow margin with which the bill was passed in the House, it seems that in order to pass the evenly divided Senate, Biden will either have to convince Republicans to support it, or avoid losing a single Democratic vote.
Congressional Republicans have unified in opposition to the bill after being locked out of the process of drafting it. Some of the arguments against Biden’s plan are that it reflects a deliberately partisan process, that it fails to deliver for American families, and that it is too large and wasteful.
Democrats counter this, saying that they are willing to work with Republicans, but will not scale back their plan to take sweeping action to address the pandemic.
The legislation will most likely be altered before being passed in the Senate, which would mean that it would have to be sent back to the House to be approved before reaching the president’s desk.
Already, an effort to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 (which was included as part of the relief package that was passed in the House) was thrown into doubt as the Senate parliamentarian said it did not comply with Senate rules. This fueled a debate, as Progressives in the House warned that they might withhold their votes if the minimum wage increase was not included.
In addition to the lack of support from Republicans and the probability of changes being made to the plan, Democrats are being pressured by deadlines. Certain types of federal unemployment assistance are set to expire on March 14th, meaning that if this plan is passed, it has to be within the next two weeks.