WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden called on lawmakers to quickly approve his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 aid package, which passed the House of Representatives early Saturday and heads to the Senate.
“It’s time to act,” Biden said in brief remarks Saturday at the White House, adding that an “overwhelming” percentage of the Americans support the legislation.
“We have no time to waste,” Biden said. “If we act now, decisively, quickly and boldly, we can finally get ahead of this virus, we can finally get our economy moving again.”
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a two-part tweet that the stimulus bill “ensures that people make it to the other side of this pandemic and are met there by a strong, growing economy.”
Biden said he’d called House Speaker Nancy Pelosi moments earlier to praise “her extraordinary leadership” after the measure narrowly passed the House Saturday morning.
The House voted 219-212 to pass the bill, a sharp break from previous aid packages that had drawn wide bipartisan support. No Republican in the House voted for it, and no Republican senators are expected to either. Two House Democrats, Maine Rep. Jared Golden and Oregon Rep. Kurt Schrader, also voted against it. To pass the Senate, Biden needs to either woo Republican support or avoid losing a single Democratic vote.
Democrats have all but abandoned efforts to pass a bipartisan package, accusing Republicans of balking at the price tag while Republicans say Biden’s bill goes well beyond pandemic-related measures.
GOP Rep. Devin Nunes on Saturday called Biden’s stimulus plan a “slush fund” for Democrats to use over the next four years.
“They’re going to be able to get the 50 votes, they’re going to buy the votes,” the California lawmaker said at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida.
On Thursday, Sen. Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas, said Democrats “are exploiting a crisis to make us pay for their pet projects.”
Pelosi brushed off those sentiments, describing the plan in a letter to colleagues as “coronavirus-centric.”
To Biden’s point about popular support, a Quinnipiac University poll taken Jan. 28-Feb. 1 showed nearly seven in 10 Americans supported the stimulus plan against 24 percent who opposed it. Most Democrats, 68 percent of independents and 47 percent of Republicans approved.
The legislation would provide $1,400 direct payments to taxpayers making as much as $75,000 individually or $150,000 per couple. It also includes new funding for vaccinations and testing.
The president has said he believes the risk facing the U.S. is not that they overdo it, but that they don’t do enough and become trapped in a cycle of sluggish growth coming out of the coronavirus crisis, similar to the outcome of the 2008-09 recession. Several business groups have called on Congress to approve Biden’s package or a version of it.
Yellen, a former Federal Reserve chair, said recently that a robust recovery plan could make the difference between the U.S. returning to full employment next year, or struggling until 2025 for a labor-market recovery.
A nonpartisan official said Thursday the package can’t move forward with its provision to phase in a $15 an hour minimum wage. That ruling sent Democrats looking for ways to work around Senate rules governing the fast-track budget process they’re using to pass the stimulus plan without Republican votes.
Biden on Saturday didn’t address the minimum wage issue or an initiative in the Senate to place a tax penalty on big companies as a way of forcing them to pay higher wages. Pelosi in her letter said “the House will continue our Fight for 15.”
“We will seek a solution consistent with the Senate rules, and we will do so as soon as possible,” Pelosi said. “Updates will be ongoing.”
Two Senate committee chairs, Ron Wyden and Bernie Sanders, pitched the idea of a tax penalty Thursday night. White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Friday said the administration didn’t yet have a position on the proposals.
A target deadline looms for Biden: Millions of people are set to lose supplemental unemployment benefits on March 14, when a previous round of virus stimulus expires.
Story by Josh Wingrove. Bloomberg writers Erik Wasson and Tony Czuczka contributed to this report.