Politics

Focus on Capitol Hill turns to passing Biden’s $1.9 trillion covid relief bill

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Biden is participating in a CNN town hall Tuesday night to discuss the coronavirus, the economy and other issues. He is likely to use the opportunity to promote his relief plan, which includes a new round of $1,400 stimulus checks as well as hundreds of billions of dollars for schools, city and state governments, coronavirus testing and vaccine manufacture and distribution.

The proposal would also increase emergency unemployment benefits from $300 to $400 a week and extend them into the fall.

Despite divisions within the House Democratic caucus, Democrats have largely unified behind the legislation. Nine House committees passed their individual portions of the bill last week, fighting back GOP attempts to alter it with dozens of amendments targeting everything from abortion to the minimum wage to the Keystone XL pipeline.

Democrats defeated all the GOP amendments save for one, a relatively minor measure in the Agriculture Committee aimed at compensating farmers impacted by derecho storms last year.

Republicans repeatedly said they were frustrated their views weren’t being considered as Democrats pushed the legislation forward without GOP support. Democrats defended their approach, saying they need to act quickly to inject more money into the health care system and stabilize the economy with millions still out of work.

“Economists, left, right and center, have all embraced a similar position, and that is we have to go big,” House Ways and Means Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.) said in an interview.

“Trying to spend money on a problem that’s international in scope and not caused by malfeasance or corruption requires a national response,” Neal said.

House passage of the legislation looks likely, even though some more moderate members of the caucus had hoped to move first on a stand-alone bill with funding for vaccines. However, bigger fights await in the Senate, where — absent GOP support — Democrats can’t afford to lose a single vote given the chamber’s 50-50 divide between Republicans and Democrats. Democrats have the majority because Vice President Harris can break ties.

Two moderate Democrats in the Senate — Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) — have indicated they oppose increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, which is part of the legislation. Biden, himself, has suggested the minimum wage increase may not make it into the final bill. If the Senate strips out the minimum wage increase and sends the legislation back to the House without it, liberals in the House would face a decision about whether to support the package anyway.

“I hope that we’re going to get a bill back with $15 in it. And I think if we don’t, then, you know, we’re just going to have to make our decisions at that point,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), a leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said in an interview. “But I can tell you, it is a top priority for the CPC and, you know, bowing to one or two conservative Democrats seems like a terrible policy idea and a political idea.”

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