‘Monumental’: Biden’s $1.9 trillion win
US President Joe Biden has claimed his first major legislative victory since taking office on January 20, with Congress passing his proposed $US1.9 trillion COVID relief package.
The House of Representatives passed the final version of the legislation in a partisan vote of 220-211 today. That followed its passage by a 50-49 margin in the Senate. No Republicans in either chamber supported the bill.
The package will deliver $1400 stimulus cheques for most Americans, extend a $300 increase to unemployment benefits until September, and expand the child tax credit.
It also contains boosted funding for the coronavirus vaccine rollout and for schools, with the goal of allowing them to reopen safely.
The direct payments are limited to individuals earning less than $75,000 a year. Couples with a combined income under $150,000 will receive $2800.
Mr Biden will sign the bill into law at the White House on Friday.
In a statement issued after it passed through the House, he lauded the efforts of Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Before holding the vote, she had described it as "a critical moment in our country's history".
"For weeks now, an overwhelming percentage of Americans - Democrats, independents and Republicans - have made it clear they support the American Rescue Plan. Today, with final passage in the House of Representatives, their voice has been heard," Mr Biden said.
"Now we move forward with the resources needed to vaccinate the nation. To get $1400 in direct payments to 85 per cent of American households. To expand coverage and help with lowering health care premiums. To give small businesses what they need to stay open. To expand unemployment insurance, provide food and nutrition assistance. To help keep a roof over people's heads. To cut child poverty in half.
"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.
"I want to thank all the members who voted for it, especially Speaker Pelosi, the finest and most capable speaker in the history of our nation. Once again, she has led into law a historic piece of legislation that addresses a major crisis and lifts up millions of Americans.
"On Friday, I look forward to signing the American Rescue Plan into law at the White House - a people's law at the people's house."
Mr Biden also addressed the bill's passage during a public appearance at the White House this afternoon, where he hosted vaccine manufacturers.
"This bill represents a historic, historic victory for the American people. I look forward to signing it later this week," the President said.
"Everything in the American Rescue Plan addresses a real need, including investments to fund our entire vaccination effort: more vaccines, more vaccinators and more vaccination sites."
Republicans disagree. They have argued the package is too large and contains funding for Democratic policy priorities unrelated to COVID relief.
Today, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell labelled it "by far one of the worst pieces of legislation" he had ever seen in the Senate, having served in the chamber since the mid-1980s.
He dismissed its potential affect on America's economic recovery.
"We are bout to have a boom. And if we do have a boom, it will have absolutely nothing to do with this $1.9 trillion," Mr McConnell said.
Meanwhile, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer appeared alongside Ms Pelosi to sign the bill. The two Democrats praised Mr Biden.
"President Biden's vision and his determination were so apparent to the American people, and the reason why this legislation enjoys this support of 75 per cent of the American people, in a strong bipartisan way across the country," said Ms Pelosi.
"We thank him for his leadership and also for his contribution to the substance of the legislation. As well as his signature, when that comes.
"On this day, we celebrate, because we are honouring a promise made by our President."
The cheques are expected to start arriving by the end of the month.
The Democrats actually promised $2000 payments in the lead-up to January's special Senate elections in Georgia. The party's two candidates, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, both won after making the pledge a central part of their campaign, and Mr Biden repeated it when he appeared in Georgia to help them.
The White House now claims he meant Americans would receive $2000 in total, counting both this $1400 payment and earlier $600 cheques that were included in the package former president Donald Trump signed at the end of December.
Senior COVID-19 adviser Andy Slavitt described today's news as a "sigh of relief" during an appearance on MSNBC.
"When this gets to the President's desk and it is signed, it is really going to be monumental in terms of allowing Americans to breathe a big sigh of relief," he said.
"Not that COVID-19 is over, but we will now have the resources to support Americans through the next stages."
Originally published as 'Monumental': Biden's $1.9 trillion win