House aims to vote on $1.9 trillion relief bill

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi speaks during her weekly press conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., February 18, 2021.

Kevin Lemarque | Reuters

The House aims to pass its $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan before the end of February as Democrats race to beat a deadline to extend key unemployment programs, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday.

The California Democrat told reporters she hopes for a vote “sometime at the end of next week.” House leaders will stay in touch with the Senate about what Congress can include in the aid package under budget reconciliation, which enables Democrats to approve the plan without Republican votes, Pelosi added.

The party aims to speed up Covid-19 vaccinations and buoy jobless Americans as the U.S. approaches a year of fighting the health crisis. Some Republicans have backed a smaller bill based around vaccine distribution money, but Democrats wielding control of Congress and the White House say they risk a tepid response that leads to more financial pain.

Millions of Americans could lose jobless benefits if lawmakers fail to act in the coming weeks. A $300 per week federal unemployment supplement and provisions expanding eligibility for insurance will expire on March 14.

The Democratic plan would increase the enhanced payment to $400 per week through Aug. 29. It would extend the pandemic-era jobless programs, which offer benefits to self-employed and gig workers and increase the number of weeks Americans can receive payments, through the same date.

The legislation would also send $1,400 direct payments to most Americans and up to $3,600 per child to households over a year. It would put $20 billion into a national vaccination program, $350 billion into state, local and tribal aid and $170 billion into K-12 schools and colleges for reopening and student aid costs.

Republicans have criticized the bill’s overall cost and raised concerns about the amount of money going into stimulus checks and schools.

The House bill includes a plan to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025. The Senate parliamentarian will decide whether the proposal complies with rules governing budget bills.

Opposition to the minimum wage hike from within the Democratic Party could sink the provision. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., are skeptical of raising the pay floor to $15 an hour.

A single Democratic vote against the pandemic relief bill would stop it from getting through a Senate split 50-50 by party.

The House Budget Committee on Monday plans to combine the separate aid bills advanced by other panels into one massive piece of legislation. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., has told lawmakers to prepare to work through next weekend to pass the final bill.

If the Senate approves separate legislation, the House would have to convene again.

The push to inject more money into the economy comes as more than 18 million Americans receive unemployment benefits.

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