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US COVID relief package gets final approval

March 11, 2021

In a 220-211 vote, President Joe Biden's pandemic and economic rescue bill has got its final approval in the US House of Representatives. He's due to sign Friday.

Pelosi with gavel in her right hand, acknowledges the bill's formal passage
House speaker Nancy Pelosi wields the gavel to passage Biden's coronavirus relief billImage: Joshua Roberts/REUTERS

Seven weeks after entering office, US President Joe Biden and his Democrats passaged the $1.9 trillion (€1.6 trillion) COVID-19 relief bill through its final congressional approval Wednesday, despite Republican objections in both chambers.

The White House said Biden planned to sign the rescue plan bill on Friday, just before current federal unemployment benefits expire on March 14.

The bill's final approval, four days after passaging the Senate, came in the House of Representatives, with members voting 220-211, virtually along party lines, with only one Democrat dissenting, Jared Golden of Maine.

Voting solidly against, Republicans claimed the bill was crammed with policies from liberal Democrats.

But House speaker, Democrat Nancy Pelosi said it would "make a difference for millions of Americans, saving lives and livelihoods" — with the US coronavirus death toll since early last year exceeding 525,000.

Included in the twin pandemic and economic rescue package is $400 billion in direct payments at $1,400 each to most Americans; $350 billion in aid to pandemic-crippled state and local governments as well as troubled entities from airlines to concert halls.

The bill also increases federal funding for vaccine distribution along with a boost in health care funding and tax breaks for poor households, including children.

It also extends home eviction and foreclosure moratoriums, boosts food aid, and sets aside $130 billion for schools across the USA.

"We deliver," assert Democrats

"We rise to the occasion. We deliver," said Democrat and House Budget committee chairman John Yarmuth.

"It's the wrong plan at the wrong time for so many wrong reasons," replied opposing Republican Jason Smith.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy called it a "long laundry list of left-wing priorities," although surveys found broad voter support, Republicans included.

Tax breaks for lower earners

The independent Tax Policy Center said the bill would give almost 70% of its tax breaks this year to American households earning $91,000 or less.

That contrasted with the so-called GOP tax package of former president Donald Trump that handed nearly half of its 2018 cuts to the top 5% of households, said the center.

Broad backing

According to a CNN television channel survey released Wednesday, the Biden-era bill was backed by 61% of Americans, including nearly all Democrats, 58% of independents, and 26% of Republicans.

The House, where the Democrats norminally have a 10-vote advantage, had initially endorsed the bill, 219-212, on February 27, forwarding it then to the Senate, which voted last Saturday.

It passed in the upper chamber on the deciding vote of Vice President Kamala Harris. 

Future Democrat votes are unlikely to run so easily, say analysts, amid differences within the party over priorities such as immigration, health care and taxes.

New York Stock Exchange during COVID-19 pandemic
The COVID-19 relief bill could accelerate the US economic recovery from the virusImage: Courtney Crow/New York Stock Exchange/AP/picture alliance

On Tuesday, anticipating the bill's passage, the Paris-based Organization for Economic Growth and Cooperation (OECD) raised its forecast, saying it now expected global growth of 5.6% this year, a 1.4% rise over its December forecast.

Biden to promote rescue package in nationwide tour, White House says

Biden, along with other top members of his administration, are expected to promote the rescue package in a nationwide tour. 

"He will be hitting the road, the vice president willl be hitting the road, the first lady will be hitting the road," White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said about the campaign. The president plans to give interviews to local media across the country starting next week to explain the different parts of the package and how it will benefit the American people. 

Biden is expected to tout the bill during the first primetime address of his presidency on Thursday evening before signing it into law on Friday.

ipj, wd/aw (AFP, Reuters, AP)