Congress approves $1.9T virus relief bill, Biden will sign Friday

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WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — The U.S. House of Representatives passed the final version of a sweeping $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill Wednesday, an early landmark victory for President Joe Biden.

The House gave final congressional approval to the package by a near party-line 220-211 vote seven weeks after Biden entered the White House and four days after the Senate passed the bill without a single Republican vote.

The American Rescue Plan Act will now make its way to Biden’s desk. He is expected to sign Friday afternoon. The final passage of the bill means the federal government should be able to launch the delivery of $1,400 stimulus checks almost right away, according to tax experts.

“For weeks now, an overwhelming percentage of Americans – Democrats, Independents, and Republicans – have made it clear they support the American Rescue Plan,” Biden said in a statement following the House vote. “Today, with final passage in the House of Representatives, their voice has been heard. Now we move forward with the resources needed to vaccinate the nation.

The bill, one of the largest stimulus measures in American history, would provide extended emergency unemployment benefits, direct payments of up to $1,400 for most Americans and vast piles of spending for COVID-19 vaccines and testing, states and cities, schools and ailing industries, along with tax breaks to help lower-earning people, families with children and consumers buying health insurance.

GOP House members unanimously opposed the bill they’ve characterized as bloated, crammed with liberal policies and heedless of signs the dual crises are easing. One Democrat, Rep. Jared Golden of Maine, voted against the bill.

“I call upon my Republican colleagues to stop their March madness and show some compassion for their constituents who are less than wealthy,” said No. 3 House Democratic leader James Clyburn of South Carolina as the House debated the legislation.

Republicans noted that they’ve overwhelmingly supported five previous relief bills Congress has approved since the pandemic struck a year ago — when divided government under then-President Donald Trump forced the parties to negotiate. They said this one, written solely by Democrats, was a bridge too far.

“This isn’t a rescue bill, it isn’t a relief bill. It’s a laundry list of left-wing priorities that predate the pandemic,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California.

The bill was sent over to the House on Tuesday morning from the Senate. Later Tuesday, the House procedurally voted to advance the bill.

The Senate passed its version of the bill after a 25-hour marathon session Saturday. The Senate version eliminated or pared back some provisions included in the House bill, which had increased the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour and extended expanded jobless assistance through Aug. 29.

The House last month passed an earlier version of the bill but has to meet again to approve changes made in the Senate over the weekend. The first version of the bill passed in the House without a single Republican vote.

Americans have already pocketed $1.5 trillion in savings from the previous rounds of stimulus, and this one is coming as a rising portion of the population is finding it safer to resume activities such as dining out and traveling that have been off-limits for much of the past year, costing millions of service workers their jobs.

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