WASHINGTON: Joe Biden’s enormous economic relief package is set to clear Congress Wednesday, delivering a major victory for the US president and a desperately needed cash injection to millions of families and businesses suffering during the coronavirus pandemic.
The $1.9 trillion plan, months in the making, is one of the largest US rescue packages ever, and will impact every aspect of the world’s biggest economy for years to come.
And while Republicans appear to stand in lockstep in opposition, progressive and moderate Democrats have managed to remain united in order to get the measure to Biden’s desk for his signature days before critical unemployment benefits expire for millions of Americans.
A vote is expected in the House of Representatives at around 1:00 pm (1800 GMT), and if the bill reaches his desk, Biden — who made the American Rescue Plan his top legislative priority — could sign the historic bill into law by week’s end.
The plan funds Covid-19 vaccines, preserves unemployment benefits for millions, sends stimulus checks of up to $1,400 to most Americans and expands federal funding for health care.
It also extends eviction and foreclosure moratoriums, increases food aid and sets aside $130 billion for schools.
And Democrats argue that the bill’s child tax credit expansion would slash child poverty by up to 50 percent.
“We are going to act with the fierce urgency of now (and) we will revive the economy,” Democratic caucus chairman Hakeem Jeffries said on the House floor.
“We will build back better for the people. Help is on the way.”
Republican lawmakers decry what they call the bill’s “socialist agenda” and its massive cost, saying more than 90 percent does not go to directly combatting Covid-19.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy called the plan “a long laundry list of left-wing priorities that predate the pandemic and do not meet the needs of the American families.”
House conservative Marjorie Taylor Greene, who unsuccessfully sought to derail the vote early Wednesday, called spending so much money “reckless, irresponsible and the wrong thing to do.”
But Americans outside Washington see it very differently.
Polls show overwhelming bipartisan support among voters for the bill, which also includes extensions of rental and mortgage assistance, help for small businesses and schools, and billions of dollars for state and local governments.
Nevertheless, Biden is signalling that he will soon hit the road on a mission to sell the package to the American people.
“Keep the faith, folks,” Biden tweeted Wednesday. “We will get through this.”
A day earlier, Biden visited a business billed as Washington’s oldest hardware store, which has benefitted from the Paycheck Protection Program begun under Donald Trump’s administration to help businesses stay afloat during the crisis.
“We’re going to continue this,” Biden said of the PPP as he chatted with store owner Mike Siegel.
Biden’s administration says it will tailor the program so that it focuses on businesses with 20 employees or fewer.
The last congressional plan to fight the coronavirus, which has to date left more than 527,000 dead in the United States and brought the economy to its knees, was enacted in December.
It expanded unemployment payments and extended them through March 14.
That deadline has loomed as Biden and congressional Democrats crafted their latest package, but it appears they will meet it and extend the benefits until early September.
Democratic leaders have hailed the American Rescue Plan as historic and transformative.
Progressive Democrats had pushed for higher supplemental unemployment benefits of $400, but after a last-minute standoff with a moderate Democrat, the Senate kept the payments at $300 a week.
With the bill’s passage likely, the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development sharply raised its 2021 global growth forecast Tuesday amid greatly improved economic prospects.
OECD says it now expects the global economy to grow by 5.6 percent, an increase of 1.4 percentage points from its December forecast.
And it sees the US economy climbing by 6.5 percent this year, nearly double its previous forecast.
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