- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 10, 2021

The House gave final approval to President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package on Wednesday, delivering him a major legislative win with a jolt of federal spending unprecedented in size and scope.

Mr. Biden plans to sign the American Rescue Plan Act into law on Friday and then hit the road to tout provisions such as $1,400 stimulus checks for millions of Americans and an extension of supercharged federal unemployment benefits into September.

“This bill represents a historic victory for the American people,” Mr. Biden said. “Everything in the American Rescue Plan addresses a real need.”

The vote came a day before the first anniversary of the World Health Organization declaring the virus that causes COVID-19 a global pandemic.

On Thursday, Mr. Biden will use his first prime-time address as president to mark that anniversary.

Democrats and Republicans alike marveled at the sheer cost of the relief bill. The flood of taxpayer dollars comes on top of close to $4 trillion in coronavirus rescue spending from Washington last year.

The bill is almost three times more expensive than the massive stimulus package Congress approved shortly after former President Obama took office during the Great Recession in 2009 — the last time Democrats controlled the House, Senate and White House.

“This legislation is one of the most transformative and historic bills any of us will ever have the opportunity to support,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.

The package that was fine-tuned by the Senate also rushes $350 billion to state and local governments and $60 billion for coronavirus testing and vaccine programs.

Mr. Biden will sign it into law without earning a single yes vote from a Republican in the House or Senate. One Democrat, Rep. Jared Golden of Maine, voted against the package on Wednesday.

The president took care to praise Mrs. Pelosi for shepherding the legislation with her narrow majority. He called her “the finest and most capable speaker in the history of our nation.”

Republicans said the president could have had a bipartisan deal but that Democrats weren’t interested in ideas to tailor the package toward coronavirus-related efforts such as distributing vaccines and reopening shuttered schools and businesses.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said the spending spree puts taxpayers on the hook for more than $5,000 apiece.

“Let’s be clear: this isn’t a rescue bill. It isn’t a relief bill,” the California Republican said. “It’s a laundry list of left-wing priorities that predate the pandemic and do not meet the needs of American families.”

In addition to major items such as direct checks and enhanced unemployment benefits, the package includes an $86 billion bailout for multi-employer pension plans and expands subsidies for health insurance plans purchased on Obamacare exchanges.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Republicans plan to educate the public about all the unnecessary spending that Democrats jammed into the bill.

“I think this is actually one of the worst pieces of legislation I have seen pass here in the time I’ve been in the Senate,” the Kentucky Republican said. “All the signs are that we’re on the way out of this, and this is vastly more expensive than should have been approved at this juncture.”

The bill also expands the child tax credit from $2,000 to $3,000 for children 6-17 years old and to $3,600 for children under the age of 6.

Democrats plan to push to make that change permanent.

House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro, a longtime advocate for expanding the credit, said Mr. Biden told House Democrats at their recent retreat that he wants a permanent extension.

“I am very optimistic that it will be permanent and the law of the land,” said Ms. DeLauro, Connecticut Democrat. “[I’d] love to work with my colleagues, but I’m not going to cut other benefits to put this in place.”

The package sets up a “child poverty cliff” next year that all but guarantees an extension, said Brian Riedl, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a right-leaning think tank.

“In 2009, Rahm Emanuel said never let a crisis go to waste and that’s what they’re doing here,” Mr. Riedl said, referring to Mr. Obama’s first White House chief of staff.

The final bill added new restrictions to the payments of up to $1,400 per person that go to an estimated 158.5 million Americans.

Individuals making up to $75,000 per year and couples earning up to $150,000 per year are eligible for the full amount. Single people earning more than $80,000 per year and couples making more than $160,000 won’t receive any money.

The $300-per-week boost in unemployment benefits into September was a compromise after Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia balked at the original House bill’s $400-per-week boost.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Mr. Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, first lady Jill Biden and Cabinet officials plan to hit the road soon for a public relations campaign.

The president plans to travel to Pennsylvania on Tuesday.

Mr. Biden, who as vice president oversaw the implementation of the approximately $800 billion stimulus package in 2009, has lamented that Mr. Obama didn’t do enough to hammer home to voters the benefits they were receiving.

The president told House Democrats last week that Mr. Obama was too “modest” and that the former president didn’t want to take a “victory lap.”

“I kept saying, ‘Tell people what we did,’” Mr. Biden said. “He said, ‘We don’t have time. I’m not going to take a victory lap.’ And we paid a price for it, ironically, for that humility.”

Priorities USA, a leading pro-Democratic group, announced a two-year, multimillion campaign to promote the “Biden-Harris-Democratic agenda,” starting with ads touting the relief package that will run in the key battleground states of Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Mr. McConnell said voters shouldn’t be fooled.

“The economy is coming back. People are getting vaccine ­— we’re on the way out of this,” he said. “We’re about to have a boom. And if we do have a boom, it will have absolutely nothing to do with this $1.9 trillion.”

House liberals said the package wasn’t exactly what they wanted but that they understood a more far-reaching bill couldn’t have earned 50 Senate Democratic votes needed to pass the upper chamber.

Democrats used a fast-track budget process to thwart a possible Republican filibuster in the 50-50 Senate. The Senate approved its modified version over the weekend on a 50-49 vote, with the absence of one Republican sparing Democrats from having to call on Ms. Harris to cast the tie-breaking vote.

Using the budget reconciliation process also had its limits.

The Senate parliamentarian ruled that a minimum wage hike to $15 per hour was not allowed under the process, though Senate Democrats could muster only 42 votes for the measure as a standalone amendment.

Consumer advocates also raised concerns that private debt collectors will be able to seize some of the $1,400 checks after reconciliation rules prevented lawmakers from including language to shield the payments in the final package.

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