US House votes on $1.9 tn Covid stimulus plan on Feb 26

US House votes on $1.9 trillion Covid stimulus plan on February 26

Biden must keep all Democrats on board or risk jeopardizing the plan

US President Joe Biden. Credit: Reuters Photo

The US House of Representatives will vote Friday on a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package that President Joe Biden seeks to ram through Congress before unemployment benefits expire next month, although Republican resistance is stiffening.

Even as top business executives Wednesday threw their support behind the sprawling plan, saying it is needed to help the struggling economy, it faces Republican warnings about an exorbitant Democratic wishlist that goes far beyond coronavirus relief.


Steny Hoyer, majority leader in the Democrat-controlled House, said that because "the need for Covid-19 relief remains great," he is bringing the so-called American Rescue Plan to the floor for a Friday vote with the aim of then passing it through the Senate.

House Democrats can ill afford substantial defections on the plan, which would send relief checks directly to struggling families, extend and expand unemployment aid, support small businesses, fund state and local pandemic response and speed vaccinations.

But the margin is even tighter in the evenly split Senate, where Biden must keep all Democrats on board or risk jeopardizing the plan.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell denounced the legislation Wednesday as "another massive firehose of borrowed money," as other Republicans argued that only nine per cent of the $1.9 trillion actually goes to fund public health.

And a procedural hurdle threatens one of the bill's key elements: an increase of the minimum wage to $15 an hour from $7.25, a Democratic priority that Biden campaigned on at length last year.

Because Democrats are seeking to pass the measure under "reconciliation," a budget process that allows bypassing the normal 60-vote filibuster in the Senate, it must comply with certain arcane rules.

The Senate's parliamentarian was expected to rule on the matter as early as Wednesday, with a possible floor vote on the bill next week before the March 14 unemployment insurance deadline.

But if the officer rules against including the minimum wage under reconciliation, it would need to be stripped out as it would be virtually impossible to secure 60 votes.

With pressure mounting, chief executives weighed in.

A letter signed by more than 150 CEOs from the Partnership for New York City said Biden's plan "provides a framework for coordinated public-private efforts to overcome Covid-19 and to move forward with a new era of inclusive growth."

Signatories included Laurence Fink of BlackRock, James Gorman of Morgan Stanley and David Solomon of Goldman Sachs.

"Previous federal relief measures have been essential, but more must be done to put the country on a trajectory for a strong, durable recovery," they wrote.

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A separate letter from the Business Roundtable, representing major US CEOs, also called for Congress to move swiftly on economic relief through a stimulus package.

No Senate Republicans have expressed support for the bill, but Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer signalled he would hold his Democrats in line.

"Make no mistake," he said on the Senate floor Wednesday, "we will deliver urgent, bold Covid relief."

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