US COVID-19 relief bill set for final approval on Wednesday

Democrats in the US House have scheduled the final vote on the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi accompanied by Assistant Speaker Katherine Clark, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, and House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth announced the House will vote on final passage of President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill. [Joshua Roberts/Reuters]

The US House of Representatives will vote on Wednesday to approve President Joe Biden’s sweeping $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue package for the United States, Democratic leaders said.

“It is a remarkable, historic transformative piece of legislation that goes a long way toward crushing the virus and solving our economic crisis,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told a news conference at the US Capitol on Tuesday.

The Democratic-controlled House on Tuesday set procedures for the approval of the US Senate’s amended version of the $1.9 trillion spending bill.

President Joe Biden, who will sign the bill soon after it passes the House, plans to give an address to the nation on Thursday night about the legislation and his programme to bring the US out of its pandemic crisis.

The bill provides for $1,400 direct payments to individuals, expands several US tax credits for working parents and extends a $300 weekly jobless benefit for unemployed workers for another five months.

It would boost incomes of the poorest US citizens by 20 percent and would cut taxes for middle-class families with children by an average of $6,000, according to a new analysis by the Tax Policy Center of the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution.

While the tax benefits are temporary, Democrats are already looking ahead to legislation to make the changes permanent which they say would cut child poverty in half in the US.

“I’ve already had some thoughts about how we’re going to expand it and make it permanent,” said Representative Richard Neal, chairman of the House’s tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.

Politically, Democrats believe the legislation, by helping to end the pandemic, turn the economy around and give relief to people who need it most, will help them win in the 2022 elections.

One of the provisions in the bill provides $5bn in debt relief and grants for Black farmers who have been disadvantaged by systemic racism and lost control of their lands over the century since the Reconstruction era.

“This may be the biggest help Black farmers have gotten since the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” said Representative Jim Clyburn, a Democrat.

House Majority Whip James Clyburn lauded funding in the COVID-19 relief bill for disadvantaged Black farmers. [Joshua Roberts/Reuters]

The amended Senate bill that the House will vote on does not include an increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour the House had approved previously.

But the bill includes more billions in new funding for social safety net programmes, satisfying progressives disappointed by the failure to include a minimum wage boost.

Republicans lamented that the sweeping legislation, which moved through Congress on expedited procedures with only Democratic support, goes beyond supporting  COVID-19 relief.

“We could have had a bill that was a fraction of the cost of this one that could have gotten bipartisan approval and support,” said Representative Liz Cheney, the No 3 Republican in the House.

“It’s not focused on COVID relief. It’s focused on pushing more of the far left, socialist agenda,” said Representative Steve Scalise, the Republican minority whip.

At the same time, some Republicans acknowledged partisan pressure was preventing them from joining with Democrats in support of the bill, a move that might draw a challenger from the more fiscally conservative elements of the Republican party.

“Are you trying to get me a primary opponent? What’s the deal here,” joked Representative Michael Burgess, a Republican in debate with Democrats soliciting his support in the House.

Hoyer predicted Republicans would vote against the bill but take credit for the results.

“They’ll be there at the ribbon cuttings and they’ll be there saying the schools are open and isn’t that great,” said Hoyer, who told reporters the House would begin debate on the final vote on the bill at 9am Eastern US time (14:00 GMT) on Wednesday.

Source: Al Jazeera