WASHINGTON: The US House passed an enormous, $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package early on Saturday, hailed by Democrats as a critical step in funneling new funding towards vaccinations, overburdened local governments, and millions of families devastated by the pandemic.
Four days after the Covid-19 death toll surpassed 500,000 in the United States, the sprawling measure backed by President Joe Biden and seen as a moral imperative by many now heads to the Senate for consideration next week.
“After 12 months of death and despair, the American recovery begins tonight,” congressman Brendan Boyle told the House chamber shortly before lawmakers approved the package on a rare post-midnight vote of 219 to 212. No Republicans voted for the bill.
The sharply partisan result comes weeks after Biden’s January 20 inauguration, when he called for unity in the face of a once-in-a-century health crisis.
The package cleared the House despite a major setback for Democrats, when a key Senate official ruled on Thursday that the final version of the bill could not include a minimum wage hike.
Biden had campaigned extensively on raising the national minimum wage to $15 an hour, from a rate of $7.25 that has stood since 2009.
He aimed to include it in the rescue plan, which directly provides $1,400 cheques to most Americans and allots billions of dollars to boost vaccine delivery, help schools re-open and fund state and local governments.
It extends unemployment benefits, set to expire in mid-March, by about six months, as well as a moratorium on evictions for millions of people struggling to pay rent.
The bill is on track to be the second largest US stimulus ever, after the $2tr package Donald Trump signed last March to fight the pandemic’s devastating spread.
Even as the Senate parliamentarian ruled against including the minimum wage language in the bill as written under budget reconciliation rules, Democrats kept the provision, highlighting their “fight for 15” as a top party priority.