WASHINGTON — Democrats in Congress are forging ahead in passing the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package on Friday as lawmakers approved a budget outline that will allow them to muscle Biden’s plan through in the coming weeks. The budget comes as Republicans refused to support the package due to the fear that the cost was too much.
The House of Representatives passed the budget plan by a party line vote of 219-209 in the pre-dawn hours of Friday morning. Vice President Kamala Harris was the tie-breaking vote in the Senate for the first time.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had stated earlier her prediction that the COVID-19 relief legislation would pass through Congress by March 15, when special unemployment benefits that were added during the pandemic expire.
Biden and top Democrats had met at the White House to enact the massive aid package as quickly as possible to beat back a pandemic that has killed over 450,000 Americans and has also left millions of people without employment.
Biden said he was open to compromise with Republicans as long as they did not slow things down.
“If I have to choose between getting help right now to Americans who are hurting so badly and getting bogged down in a lengthy negotiation … that’s an easy choice. I’m going to help the American people hurting now,” he said.
Republicans earlier had floated a $600 billion aid package, less than a third the size of the Democratic plan. Democrats, like Larry Summers, an economic adviser to former President Barack Obama, have warned that Biden might be spending too much.
In its overnight session, the Senate voted to oppose an immediate increase of the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $15 per hour. Senators also backed a motion calling for direct payments of up to $1,400 to be tailored to low-income earners. The White House says it is open to that idea.
The House vote Friday incorporated the Senate’s changes.
The approved amendments do not carry the force of law in a budget blueprint, but can serve as guidelines for developing the actual coronavirus aid bill in coming weeks.
ATR News Contributing Writer Michael Lineweaver in Nashville, TN contributed to this report. Additional reporting may be from other sources.