WORLD / AMERICAS
US Congress passes $1.9t relief package
Key Biden plan to revive America wins at historic juncture, largest aid ever
Published: Mar 11, 2021 06:33 PM
US President Joe Biden (first left) and Vice President Kamala Harris (second right) hold a moment of silence for the dead due to COVID-19 at the White House on Monday. Photo: AFP

US President Joe Biden (first left) and Vice President Kamala Harris (second right) hold a moment of silence for the dead due to COVID-19 at the White House on Monday. Photo: AFP

The US Congress passed Joe Biden's enormous economic relief package Wednesday, delivering a resounding victory for the president and giving what he called a "fighting chance" 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. It will dramatically impact every aspect of the world's biggest economy for years to come while protecting and expanding the country's social safety net.

Democrats say they have met a historic moment of crisis head on, funneling federal dollars into vaccine distribution, stimulus checks of up to $1,400 to most Americans, extended unemployment benefits for millions and an expansion of government funding for healthcare.

The measure only narrowly passed the House of Representatives by a 220-211 vote, with zero support from Republicans, who accuse Biden of abandoning his Inauguration Day pledge to unify a divided nation.

But as Republicans stood in opposition, progressive and moderate Democrats locked arms and marched the measure across the finish line days before critical unemployment benefits were set to expire.

The bill now heads to the White House, where Biden - who made the American Rescue Plan his top legislative priority - said he will sign the measure into law on Friday.

"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," the president said in a post-vote statement.

At a presentation with vaccine makers, Biden went on to call the bill a "historic victory for the American people" and said "there's a real reason for hope" in beating back the pandemic.

Minutes earlier, loud cheers and applause rose from the floor when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared the measure passed.

"This is a critical moment in our country's history," the top congressional Democrat said. "Help is on the way - for the people, for the children."

The bill extends eviction and foreclosure moratoriums, pours billions of dollars into state and local governments, provides help for small businesses, 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.

But Republican lawmakers attacked what they called the bill's "socialist agenda" and 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."

The Senate's top Republican, Mitch McConnell, savaged it as "Democratic overreach in the name of COVID[-19] relief." 

"This is by far one of the worst pieces of legislation I've seen in the Senate," he said. The bill passed the upper chamber Saturday along strict party lines.

AFP
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