Third stimulus check: House vote paves way for $1.9T package

The aid package will now go through congressional committees with the aim of finalizing further relief, including a third stimulus check, by mid-March.

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden made the case Friday for swift, Republican-free action, if needed, to spend $1.9 trillion in coronavirus relief, armed with new signs of economic strain brought on by the pandemic. persistent.

The stakes for the country and the economy were heightened Friday morning, shortly after Senate Democrats voted decisively to force the plan through the chamber without Republican support, a step toward final approval. next month. January’s jobs report showed hiring had stalled at a pace that could hamper a return to full employment for several years – with 406,000 people choosing to leave the labor force as deaths from the pandemic rose .

“A lot of people are losing hope,” Biden said in a speech at the White House. “I believe the American people are looking to their government right now for help, to do our job, not to let them down. So I will act. I will act quickly. I’d love to do it with Republican support…they’re just not willing to go as far as I think we need to go.

The speech solidified a shift from a president who entered the White House promising bipartisanship and met with 10 Republican senators on Monday who offered a $618 billion slimmed-down alternative. But Biden concluded in his Friday speech that aid at that level would only prolong the economic pain.

His remarks came hours after the Senate approved a budget measure that would allow Democrats to pass the plan without Republicans. Vice President Kamala Harris cast the deciding vote in the Senate, her first.

Senate Democrats cheered after Harris announced the 51-50 vote around 5:30 a.m. The action came after a grueling all-night session, where senators voted on amendments that could define the contours of the possible COVID-19 aid bill.

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Following Senate approval, the House passed Measure 219-209 Friday afternoon, also without a Republican vote.

The coronavirus relief package can now go through congressional committees with the goal of finalizing additional relief by mid-March, when supplemental unemployment assistance and other pandemic relief expires. It’s an aggressive schedule that will test the ability of the new administration and Congress to deliver.

“We’ve been focused like a laser to get this done,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said after leading House Democrats met with Biden on Friday. “We hope we can put vaccines in people’s arms, money in people’s pockets, children safe in schools and workers in their jobs. That’s what we’re doing now.

The stimulus push comes amid fresh signs of a weakening U.S. economy. Employers added just 49,000 jobs in January, after shedding 227,000 jobs in December, the Labor Department said Friday. Restaurants, retailers, manufacturers and even the healthcare sector laid off workers last month, meaning private employers accounted for a paltry gain of 6,000 jobs last month.

“At this rate, it will take 10 years before we reach full employment,” Biden said during an Oval Office meeting with House Democrats earlier Friday. “It’s not hyperbole. It is a fact.”

The unemployment rate fell from 6.7% to 6.3%, but there was a drop in the number of people working or looking for work, a sign that some people are dropping out of the labor force. The US economy has 9.9 million fewer jobs than its pre-pandemic level.

Biden, who has met with lawmakers in recent days to discuss the package, welcomed leaders of the House committees that will put the bill together as part of the budget process known as “reconciliation.” Money for vaccine distributions, direct payments to households, school reopenings and business aid are at stake.

The size of the package has been a concern for several Republican lawmakers and some economists. Larry Summers, former treasury secretary in the Clinton administration, said in a Washington Post column that the $1.9 trillion package was three times larger than the projected economic deficit. A separate analysis of Penn Wharton’s budget model found the plan would do little to spur growth relative to its size.

The marathon Senate session saw test votes on several Democratic priorities, including a $15 minimum wage. The Senate passed by voice vote an amendment by Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, opposing wage increases during the pandemic. Ernst said a wage hike at this time would be “devastating” for small businesses.

The Senate also passed a 99-1 amendment that would block the $1,400 in direct checks from Biden’s proposal from going to “high-income taxpayers.” But the measure, directed by the senses. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, is ultimately symbolic and non-binding and does not specify at what level a person qualifies as top income.

And while Biden seemed willing to break with Republicans in his speech, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters afterwards that the Senate-approved reconciliation process still allowed for bipartisanship.

“The process allows time for negotiations through committee work,” Psaki said. “We certainly hope there will be opportunities for amendments from Republicans, amendments from others at all levels to be part of this process in the future.”

Associated Press writer Zeke Miller contributed to this report.

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