Early Saturday morning, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives finally passed the desperately-needed stimulus bill, entitled “The American Rescue Plan”, by a narrow vote of 219-212. Two Democrats, Reps. Jared Golden of Maine and Kurt Schrader of Oregon, broke party lines and voted alongside the unanimous Republican opposition. With a price tag of 1.9 trillion dollars, Republicans criticize the bloated bill for unnecessary spending while Democrats champion the bill for its boldness, believing struggling Americans need the intentionally excessive relief to get back on their feet.
If passed in the Senate, the headlining stimulus checks would be $1,400 for a single taxpayer earning less than $75,000 per year, or $2,800 for a married couple earning less than $150,000 that files jointly, plus $1,400 per dependent. The checks would decrease beyond the threshold of $75,000 for a single taxpayer or the $150,000 for a couple with a hard cutoff at $100,000 for individuals and $200,000 for married couples.
Notably, the checks are still $600 dollars short of President Joe Biden’s promised $2,000 checks that were supposed to be “out the door immediately to help people who are in real trouble” if Democrats won back the Senate in January’s runoffs in Georgia.
Unemployment insurance booster checks would be extended and increased to $400 dollars per week.
For households with children, federal tax breaks will be increased to $3,000 for every child age 6 to 17 and $3,600 for every child under the age of 6.
$50 billion would be allocated for COVID-19 vaccine distribution, contact tracing, and COVID-19 testing. More controversially, the bill also includes expansions to Medicaid and the Obama-era Affordable Care Act.
Schools K-12 would receive 130 billion to help support the re-opening process, including modified classrooms, improved ventilation, and the purchase of personal protective equipment, and help schools increase hires of nurses and counselors. Spending for colleges and universities would be boosted by $40 billion to help with pandemic-related expenses.
For businesses, $15 billion will be sent to airlines and related eligible contractors if they can hold off furloughing employees or cutting pay through September in the third round of support for airlines. $25 billion would go to restaurants and bars, offering $10 million dollar grants, and small businesses would receive $7.25 billion in loans under the Paycheck Protection Program to cover payroll and operating costs. $350 billion dollars would also be sent to state and local governments and tribal governments.
Despite the Senate parliamentarian ruling against it, the relief bill does include a gradual hike of the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour by June 2025, though this provision likely won’t survive in the Senate. As one of President Biden’s utmost priorities, Senate Democrats may try to wiggle around the Senate parliamentarian, however, the urgency of the bill will probably prevent too much politics from being played. The White House has indicated a rise in minimum wage isn’t a pressing demand in the relief bill.
“[President Joe Biden] will work with leaders in Congress to determine the best path forward because no one in this country should work full time and live in poverty,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement. “He urges Congress to move quickly to pass the American Rescue Plan, which includes $1,400 rescue checks for most Americans, funding to get this virus under control, aid to get our schools reopened and desperately needed help for the people who have been hardest hit by this crisis.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has called the relief bill a “spectacular piece of legislation.”
On the other side, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) lambasted the bill as a “Pelosi Payoff” in a Fox News op/ed, shredding the bill for failing to be “a serious attempt to fix the real problems of the American people.”
“When you add it all up, the price tag of Democrats’ bill is jaw-dropping. At $1.9 trillion, it is the single most expensive bill in history. But don’t call it a rescue or relief bill. Call it a Pelosi Payoff. Because the amount of money that actually goes to funding public health is less than nine percent,” McCarthy slammed. “This is not a serious attempt to fix the real problems of the American people. The solution America needs is one that will get us on a path back to normal. We need blue state governors to lift their non-science-based lockdowns. We need schools to reopen, students back in the classroom, and breadwinners back to work.”
“That is what the American people need, what they want, and what they deserve. But the Democrats’ bill won’t accomplish this, and instead will result in families, children, and small businesses continuing to get left behind, saddled with a debt they cannot afford, all for the sake of an agenda they never voted for,” he finished.
As with the American system of checks and balances, this is only the first step in the legislation’s eventual signing by President Biden, with potentially another vote in the House to approve the Senate’s alterations before the bill can pass Biden’s desk.