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House is expected to vote on virus relief, and Biden is on the verge of a victory.

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House is expected to vote on virus relief, and Biden is on the verge of a victory.
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House is expected to vote on virus relief, and Biden is on the verge of a victory.

 

 

President Joe Biden is on the verge of a historic $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, putting him on the verge of an early victory that advances Democratic priorities and demonstrates the unity his party will need to forge potential victories.

The package, which seeks to fulfill Democrats’ campaign promises to combat the pandemic and boost the ailing economy, is scheduled to receive final congressional approval Wednesday. Republicans in the House and Senate have overwhelmingly rejected the bill, calling it bloated, crammed with liberal policies, and oblivious to signals that the twin crises are easing.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Tuesday that the bill is “a groundbreaking, historic, transformative piece of legislation that goes a long way toward destroying the virus and addressing our economic crisis.”

The bill is basically a canvas on which Biden and Democrats have painted their core beliefs: that government services can be a boon, not a curse, to millions of people, and that spending vast amounts on those measures can be a cure, not a curse. The bill is so closely aligned with Democratic interests that many members of Congress rate it among their career highlights, and considering their narrow congressional majorities, there was never any real doubt about its fate.

They were also aided by three factors: their unfettered control of the White House and Congress, polling showing widespread support for Biden’s approach, and a time when most people don’t seem to mind that the national debt is rapidly approaching a staggering $22 trillion. Neither party appears concerned about the debt, even when the other is using it to fund its priorities, whether it’s Democratic spending or Republican tax cuts.

Initiatives are a prominent aspect of the law, making it one of the most significant federal efforts in recent years to support low- and middle-income families. Over the next year, increased tax exemptions for children, child care, and maternity leave will be included, as well as spending for landlords, feeding services, and people’s utility bills.

Many Americans will receive up to $1,400 in direct payments, as well as extended unemployment insurance and hundreds of billions of funding for COVID-19 vaccinations and therapies, colleges, state and local governments, and struggling industries ranging from airlines to concert halls. Help is available for minority farmers and pension funds, as well as incentives for households purchasing health insurance and states extending Medicaid coverage for low-income people.

Its broad scope is a key Republican talking point.

“It isn’t geared toward COVID relief. It’s all about advancing the far-left agenda,” said Louisiana Republican Steve Scalise, the House’s No. 2 Republican leader.

Last week, an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll found that 70 percent of Americans, including a sizable 44 percent of Republicans, support Biden’s response to the virus.

However, the bill’s journey has highlighted Democrats’ difficulties in establishing a legislative record that will persuade voters to retain them in power in Congress in next year’s elections.

Democrats have a 50-50 Senate majority, thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris, who gives them the winning vote in tying roll calls. In the House, they just have a 10-vote advantage.

That leaves almost no space for manoeuvre for a party that includes conservatives like West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin and progressives like Vermont independent Senator Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

To win moderate support, progressives had to swallow significant compromises in the bill. Dropping the House-approved federal minimum-wage rise to $15 per hour by 2025 was the most painful.

Moderates pushed for tighter qualifications for the $1,400 stimulus checks, which are now fully phased out for individuals earning $80,000 and couples earning $160,000. The Senate reduced the House’s original extension of the soon-to-stop $400 weekly emergency jobless payments, which are paid on top of state compensation, to $300, and the payments will now end in early September.

Manchin was a prominent dissenter who was in the center of negotiations that culminated in the cancellation of all of those measures. On Saturday, the Senate passed the bill 50-49 on a party-line vote.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, chair of the nearly 100-member Congressional Progressive Caucus, called the elimination of the minimum-wage increase “infuriating.” “It hits all of our progressive goals — putting money in people’s wallets, shots in weapons, unemployment benefits, child care, and schools,” she said of the overall bill.

According to the Tax Policy Center, the Senate-passed bill would award households with $91,000 or less almost 70% of this year’s tax cuts. According to the research center, which is operated by the liberal-leaning Urban Institute and Brookings Institution, the Trump-era GOP tax bill gave nearly half of its 2018 reductions to the top 5% of households earning about $308,000.

Holding Democrats together, however, will be difficult as the party attempts to advance the remainder of its agenda. Inside the party, there are divisions over issues such as immigration, health care, and taxation.

Progressives are likely to draw their own lines in the sand at some stage. They’ve already demanded that the party reconsider the minimum-wage increase, and Republicans have already shown that they’re ready to strike.

The American Action Network, which is linked to House GOP representatives, has begun running digital advertising in largely moderate districts, describing the relief bill as “a freight train of frivolous spending to bankroll their liberal cronies.”

The bill passed the Senate thanks to budget rules that stopped Republicans from filing filibusters, which require 60 votes for most bills. Going forward, the process won’t be open for much legislation, but any Democratic Senate defections would make much of the bills there non-starters.

And with a procedural advantage, the Democrats’ path to Senate victory was littered with delays. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., had clerks read the entire 628-page bill for nearly 11 hours; talks with Manchin over unemployment insurance took about nine hours; and votes on three dozen proposals, almost all of which were doomed to fail from the start, took about 12 hours.

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