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House sends $1.9 trillion relief package to Biden

By AI HEPING in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-03-11 14:15
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US Capitol building in Washington DC. [Photo/Agencies]

The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives on Wednesday approved the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package and sent it to President Joe Biden to sign, the president's first major legislative undertaking and one of the largest US government interventions in the economy of the post-World War II era.

"This legislation is about giving the backbone of this nation — the essential workers, the working people who built this country, the people who keep this country going —a fighting chance," Biden said in a statement following the vote. He will sign the bill into law Friday, the White House said.

The House approved the bill 220-211, on a day that marked Biden's 50th day in office. No Republicans in the House or in the Senate, which approved it 50-49 on Saturday, voted for the bill. In the House, all but one Democrat, Jared Golden of Maine, voted in favor. Golden also voted against the relief bill last month when it first passed the House. He said that while he supports aspects of the relief bill, he was concerned about its size and scope.

And so are Republicans. They have attacked the plan — the final cost of which is estimated at $1.856 trillion — as wasteful and excessive and far beyond a coronavirus relief bill.

"This isn't a rescue bill; it isn't a relief bill. It's a laundry list of left-wing priorities that predate the pandemic,'' Representative Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California and the House minority leader, said Wednesday.

Despite the legislation not including one of the Democrats' major policy goals — raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour — 70 percent of Americans support the package, according to a Pew Research Center poll released Wednesday. Top Democrats, including Biden himself, have vowed to make the minimum wage increase a priority for the rest of his term.

Some economists have warned the size of the relief package risks a spike in inflation. But Janet Yellen, the Treasury secretary, and Jay Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, have dismissed those worries.

On Wednesday, the latest report on inflation from the Labor Department showed a muted increase in consumer prices for February. The overall Consumer Price Index rose by 0.4 percent, in line with expectations and nudged by an increase in gasoline prices.

On Tuesday, the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said the stimulus package, along with faster vaccination, could increase US GDP growth by 3 percentage points to 6.5 percent in 2021 and boost the economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic around the world by about 1 percent.

Much of the attention on the 628-page bill called the American Rescue Plan — which will be financed entirely by adding to the US deficit — has focused on the direct payments of up to $1,400 to many Americans and the extension of a $300 weekly federal unemployment benefit until Sept 6. Americans had faced losing boosted unemployment benefits that are set to expire over the weekend.

The bill goes far beyond the direct financial payments — which will cost $420 billion of the total package — and the extension of unemployment benefits.

It includes a set of measures that is estimated to slash poverty by a third this year and potentially cut child poverty in half, including an increase in the maximum child tax credit from $2,000 per child to $3,600 per child, as well as $20 billion in rental assistance and enhanced food benefits.

It also includes $350 billion for states and local governments and for schools to help them reopen, money for coronavirus testing, contact tracing and vaccine distribution.

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