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Democrats-held House passes $1.9 trillion relief package amid Republican opposition

Xinhua | Updated: 2021-02-27 15:11

Vendors serve customers at Reading Terminal Market that has seen reduced foot traffic due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US, Feb 20, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

WASHINGTON - The Democrats-held House approved a 1.9-trillion-dollar COVID-19 relief package early Saturday morning amid unanimous Republican opposition, sending the bill to the Senate.

The measure, a major legislation for President Joe Biden, cleared the lower chamber of Congress by a vote of 219 to 212, with lawmakers largely voting along party lines. Two Democrats defected and voted against it.

The House vote came after more than eight hours of debate by the House Rules Committee on the framework for the relief package, and a full House debate that started late Friday night and stretched into early Saturday morning.

In the House debate that lasted for over an hour, Republican lawmakers unanimously opposed the giant relief package, calling it a Democratic wish list, arguing that the plan includes provisions that they see as unrelated to the crisis, and that the high price tag could result in unsustainable debt for future generations.

"We ran the numbers. The amount of money that actually goes to defeating the virus is less than 9 percent, less than 9 percent. So don't call it a rescue bill. Don't call it a relief bill," said Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican in the lower chamber.

"Almost every one of this bill's 592 pages includes a liberal pipe dream. It predates the pandemic," said the House Republican Leader.

Democrats, meanwhile, voiced strong support for the relief, highlighting the urgency to rein in the surging pandemic, which has claimed 500,000 American lives, and to bolster the ravaged economy, with millions of Americans still out of work and businesses grappling with the economic fallout from COVID-19.

A few hours before the House debate, in response to McCarthy's conspicuously satirical tweet suggesting an up-or-down vote on each item separately in the relief package, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the chamber, said on Twitter that even Republican mayors across the country are imploring Republican lawmakers to support the relief plan.

Pelosi was referring to a bipartisan letter to Congress on Jan 29, co-signed by mayors across the country, including more than 30 Republican mayors, who called on lawmakers to roll out more relief for state and local governments as soon as possible.

"We urge you to take immediate action on comprehensive coronavirus relief legislation, including providing direct fiscal assistance to all cities, which is long overdue," the letter read.

Biden's 1.9-trillion-dollar rescue plan includes funding to directly combat the pandemic, direct relief to households, as well as support for hard-hit small businesses and communities.

The plan contains direct payments of 1,400 dollars per person for working families, which is on top of the 600-dollar check in the 900-billion relief package approved in December. It would also boost federal unemployment benefits to 400 dollars per week and extend the measure through the end of September.

The House-approved bill also includes a provision to raise the federal minimum wage to 15 dollars, which would face tough tests in the 50-50 split Senate, where parliamentarians have ruled that the wage increase violates the budget reconciliation process and cannot be included.

In early February, Democrats moved to pass a procedural step in both chambers, allowing them to push through the big relief bill in Congress without Republican support, a move criticized by Republicans as a "partisan process."

Biden, however, recently said that he is willing to work with Republicans on the relief bill, but what Republicans proposed is "either to do nothing or not enough."

"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 or compromising on a bill that's up to the crisis, that's an easy choice," said the U.S. president.

Democrats are rushing to get the bill approved in Congress and send it to Biden to sign into law, as federal unemployment benefits are set to expire in mid-March.

Many Republicans have questioned the need for another massive relief package as lawmakers have passed nearly 4 trillion dollars in relief efforts since the pandemic began, especially after a 900-billion-dollar aid package approved in December 2020.

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