House Democrats passed a nearly $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill on a mostly party-line vote early Saturday, sending the massive package to the Senate as lawmakers rush to provide a fresh round of aid before key unemployment programs expire.
“Now, the bill moves to the United States Senate, where I hope it will receive quick action. We have no time to waste,” President Biden said Saturday morning. "If we act now — decisively, quickly and boldly — we can finally get ahead of this virus. We can finally get our economy moving again.”
The Senate could move as soon as this week to pass its own version of the bill, which will look slightly different from the House proposal — most notably excluding the $15 minimum wage increase after the parliamentarian ruled that its inclusion violates budget rules.
Democrats are using a procedural tool known as budget reconciliation to pass the legislation without any Republican support and are therefore limited as to what provisions they can include. And given their thinnest-possible majority in the Senate, the party needs to secure the support of all 50 members across the ideological spectrum, with Vice President Kamala Harris then able to cast a tie-breaking vote.
Senate Democrats already agreed to drop an alternative tactic of raising the pay floor by penalizing large corporations with low wages after it became evident that getting all 50 senators in the caucus to reach an agreement could slow down the bill's passage, a source familiar with the matter told Fox News.
Lawmakers are racing to send the legislation to Biden's desk before March 14, when more than 11 million Americans will lose their jobless aid when two key federal jobless aid programs created a year ago under the CARES Act — and extended in the $900 billion relief package that Congress passed in December — lapse.
Assuming the Senate passes a different version of the emergency aid bill, the House will either have to vote on that measure — a potentially risky move with progressives threatening to withdraw their support unless it includes a $15 minimum wage — or the two chambers will need to meet to draft a final bill.
The proposal contains a third $1,400 stimulus check for Americans earning less than $75,000 annually, increases jobless benefits to $400 a week through the end of August, expands the child tax credit to up to $3,600 per child, includes $350 billion for state and local government funding and allocates $170 billion for K-12 schools and higher education institutions to cover reopening costs.
Most Republicans are expected to vote against the massive spending measure, which will push the nation's already staggering debt to nearly $30 trillion if passed. Congress already passed about $4 trillion in relief measures under former President Donald Trump, pushing the deficit to a record $3.1 trillion in fiscal year 2020 — which doesn't include the $900 billion relief package lawmakers approved in December.
GOP lawmakers have questioned the need for another $2 trillion, accusing their liberal colleagues of using the bill as means of passing a "Democratic wish list."
"This one is not a bill that would focus on what Republicans want to about putting us back to work, back to school, back to health," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told "Fox & Friends" on Thursday. "This bill is actually too costly, too corrupt, and too liberal."
One analysis by the Center for a Responsible Federal Budget found that more than 15% of the proposed package — about $300 billion — will go toward long-standing policy priorities that are "not directly related to the current crisis." Roughly 1% of the spending will go toward accelerating vaccine distribution, and just 5% is focused on public health needs, according to the nonpartisan group.