Democrats are one big step closer to achieving their first major goal of the Joe Biden era. Early Saturday morning, the U.S. House approved a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill on a nearly party-line vote.
The 219-212 vote allows the U.S. Senate to formally take up the legislation, which Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) intends to do immediately. But the party is under the gun: Many Democrats regard March 14—the day that extended unemployment benefits run out for millions—as a de facto deadline for getting the so-called American Rescue Plan on Biden’s desk.
The legislation would replenish relief for the jobless by extending a weekly $400 check through August. It also fulfills a number of other promises Democrats campaigned on in 2020: $1,400 direct stimulus checks to supplement the $600 checks that went out in December, billions of dollars to hasten vaccine distribution, funds for schools, and aid for state and local governments. The House’s bill passed with an increase to the federal minimum wage—but the Senate’s procedural enforcer found that the proposal did not conform to the rules of fast-tracking a bill in the upper chamber. It effectively kills the prospects for a clean wage hike as part of the COVID legislation.
Prior rounds of major COVID legislation passed the House with bipartisan support, but Friday’s vote all but confirmed Biden’s first relief effort will travel a starkly partisan path. The GOP, beset with infighting in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack and Donald Trump’s impeachment, have found cause for unity in opposing the relief plan, which they slammed as a bloated vehicle for liberal wish-list items. Democrats held out hope that at least a few Republicans would vote for the plan, but not a single GOP lawmaker backed the legislation, and its odds for picking up many Senate Republicans look dim.