Final U.S. House vote awaits Biden pandemic recovery plan
One more vote in the U.S. House will send a $1.9 trillion pandemic recovery plan to President Joe Biden for his signature.
The U.S. Senate passed it Saturday, March 6, on a party-line vote of 50-49. All Democrats, including Oregon's Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, voted for it; 49 Republicans voted against it. One Republican was absent. Vice President Kamala Harris holds the tie-breaker in the evenly split chamber, but her vote was not needed.
The House vote is expected early in the week. Oregon Rep. Kurt Schrader was just one of two Democrats, along with all Republicans, to vote against the original bill on Feb. 27. Democrats can afford to lose only three votes, assuming no Republicans switch, to repass the new version.
The House must take a second vote on the bill (HR 1913) because the Senate made some changes, although Biden said he would accept them. Key changes:
• Stimulus checks: The Senate limited eligibility for the $1,400-per-person checks, the third in a series going back a year. (Previous checks were $1,200 and $600.) The checks now will phase out at $80,000 income for a one-person household and $160,000 for a two-person household, but the limits allow households to receive the full amounts at $75,000 and $150,000. The House version set limits of $100,000 and $200,000. The Senate limits would exclude an estimated 7 million more households.
• Unemployment benefits: The Senate reduced supplemental payments from $400 per week in the House version to the $300 paid currently. Extension of federal benefits, particularly for self-employed and gig workers, would be through Sept. 6 instead of Aug. 28. The current extension from December is scheduled to end March 13.
• Minimum wage: The Senate removed the House provision for an increase in the federal minimum wage in stages from the current $7.25, set in 2009, to $15 in four years. The Senate parliamentarian interpreted the chamber's rules under a special procedure to bar its consideration as part of the plan.
Merkley and Wyden voted for an amendment proposed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent who votes with Democrats, to provide for an increase. But the Senate defeated it Friday on a 58-42 vote; eight Democrats sided with all Republicans against it.
The Senate acted under a special procedure, known as "budget reconciliation," that allows approvals with a simple majority instead of a filibuster-proof majority of 60.
The Senate version leaves untouched a variety of other aid, including more federal money for COVID-19 coronavirus vaccinations, child care and reopening schools, aid to small businesses, and increased child tax credits and earned-income tax credits for low-income workers.
State and local governments also will share $350 billion in aid, much of it to be allocated by population.
It also boosts potential aid to restaurants, a cause championed by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat from Portland who has been working on this proposal for nearly a year. The total is up to $28.6 billion.
"With today's successful vote in the Senate, urgently needed aid will soon finally be on its way," he said in a statement. "As we hopefully return to normal later this year, this legislative lifeline will spell the difference between survival of some of our most cherished local restaurants and losing them forever."
Wyden also secured $2 billion over the next two years for aid to counties and tribes with significant shares of public lands under federal authority, such as national forests and Bureau of Land Management lands. The bill requires the U.S. Treasury to come up with a formula for the program, which replaces federal aid to counties for roads and schools that Wyden won passage of back in 2000.
Wyden's statement upon Senate passage of Biden's plan:
"Democrats have succeeded in passing the boldest economic relief package in recent memory. Our bill continues the historic actions Democrats have taken on behalf of jobless Americans, sends relief payments to working- and middle-class families in Oregon and nationwide, cuts child poverty in half, and boosts the take home pay of millions of essential workers like grocery store clerks and home health aides. This package also provides critical aid to states, cities and local communities to prevent massive budget shortfalls and permanent layoffs of teachers and firefighters.
"Democrats learned the lessons of the Great Recession, and committed to advancing economic relief that meets the unprecedented needs of the American people during this crisis. Our work is not over, and we will soon turn to rebuilding an economy that works for all Americans over the long term.
"Bottom line, the American Rescue Plan took one huge step today to provide the ongoing help that Oregonians and our entire country need to weather this public health crisis and its devastating economic fallout."
Merkley's statement upon passage:
"Good news, America: Relief is finally on the way. The American Rescue Plan is going to put money in people's pockets, vaccines in their arms, kids in classrooms and 'open' signs on Main Street businesses. And it's not a moment too soon.
"This past year will go down in our nation's history books as one of our most difficult and frightening chapters. More than half a million Americans — including over two thousand Oregonians — have lost their lives to the coronavirus. Millions have lost their jobs and are struggling to keep the lights on and stay in their homes. Front-line workers — especially those in vulnerable and medically underserved communities — are still facing shortages of personal protective equipment. Educators are working tirelessly to keep educating our children, some of whom have not stepped foot in a classroom for nearly a full year. State and local governments have lost critical revenue they need to pay firefighters and first responders.
"For too long, the American people have been waiting for the kind of bold, decisive action it's going to take to beat back this virus, get Americans back on their feet and safely reopen our schools. Today's vote means that kind of relief is finally within sight — including stimulus checks; extended unemployment insurance for the 20 million Americans who are relying on the program and would otherwise lose it at the end of next week; resources local governments need to provide vital services; support for our front-line workers and main streets; resources to safely help get students back in the classroom; and a national strategy to make testing easier and vaccines distributed as quickly as possible.
"While much work remains to be done in the coming months to help our communities survive and recover during this crisis, this relief package is an enormous step forward. I look forward to continuing to work with Oregonians, my colleagues and with President Biden to build on this progress."
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