- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 7, 2021

The White House on Sunday ratcheted up pressure on the House’s progressive Democrats to fall in line and pass President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package after the Senate watered down some far-left priorities in the bill.

The House Democrats’ thin majority can only suffer five defections to force through the massive spending on an otherwise party-line vote, with no Republicans expected to back the package.

Kate Bedingfield, White House communications director, touted support from socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont to prod far-left House members to get on board.

“You heard Sen. Sanders say that this was the best piece of legislation for working people in the modern history of this country. This is a bill that reflects President Biden’s belief that the best way to get the economy back on track and get it growing is to invest in working people and middle-class people,” she told CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“We are very hopeful that the House is going to move quickly to pass this legislation.”

Mr. Biden heralds the legislation as the price to “beat the virus.” And yet, it became a one-party bill and subject to intra-party squabbling over whether it was sufficiently progressive.

The House is expected to take up the bill Tuesday and a vote could come by the end of the week, sending it to Mr. Biden’s desk for his signature.

The $1.9 trillion follows three other relief packages that totaled $4 trillion since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared a year ago by the World Health Organization.

After the Senate approved the bill, Mr. Biden told Americans to get ready to cash their $1,400 stimulus checks.

“This plan will get checks out the door starting this month to the American people,” he told reporters at the White House.

The rescue package includes the stimulus checks for individuals making under $75,000 and couples making under $150,000. The Senate made the payments phase out faster for wealthier Americans so the individuals making $80,000 will not get a stimulus check.

The bill would provide $130 billion for K-12 schools, nearly $40 billion for colleges, $15 billion for loans to small businesses, $14 billion for vaccine programs and $8.4 billion for rural hospitals.

Republicans objected to the excessive and scattershot spending. They said just 10% of the money goes to COVID-19 related issues and squanders the rescue spending on an economy that is already rebounding, pointing to Friday’s unemployment report that showed 379,000 jobs added to the economy last month.

They also balked at the $350 billion going to states such as California that have posted budget surpluses despite predictions that the pandemic lockdowns would dramatically shrink state tax revenues.

Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican, said voters will lose enthusiasm when they find out what’s in the bill.

“This was not really about coronavirus in terms of the spending. This was a liberal wish list of liberal spending just basically filled with pork,” he told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Sen. Joe Manchin III, the most conservative Democrat in the evenly split upper chamber, forced a 12-hour holdup of the bill Saturday while negotiating to cut the bill’s extra unemployment benefits to $300 per week from the $400 in the version the House passed last month.

Mr. Manchin and a handful of other moderate Democrats in the Senate also helped kill an increase of the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour from the current $7.25. The higher minimum wage is a longtime goal of the far left and, particularly, Mr. Sanders, who vowed to continue the fight in stand-alone legislation.

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, New Jersey Democrat, blasted the less-progressive relief bill that squeaked out of the Senate in a party-line 50-49 vote.

“This trend is outrageous,” she wrote in a tweet, which was then retweeted by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, a leader of the House’s far-left clique known as “The Squad.”

However, House Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal, Washington Democrat, said the Senate bill was “a truly progressive and bold package.”

Her endorsement goes a long way with her wing of the Democratic caucus.

Mr. Manchin made the rounds Sunday talk shows to insist the relief package that passed without GOP support was not a one-party bill.

“We had an awful lot of input from Republican friends,” the West Virginia Democrat told ABC’s This Week. “They had a tremendous amount of input. They just couldn’t get there at the end.”

His work to reduce the jobless benefits failed to get any GOP senators to back the legislation. But he said the bill was not partisan, noting Mr. Biden called 10 Senate Republicans into the White House at the beginning of COVID negotiations.

Progressives in his party criticized Mr. Manchin, particularly over removing the $15 minimum wage hike. He said he supports a hike to $11 but that the minimum wage debate didn’t belong in the COVID relief legislation.

“We need to find a way to work together. That’s all I’m trying to do,” he told “Fox News Sunday.”

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