Democratic leaders are cheering the imminent final passage of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus bill, with the White House calling it the “most progressive” bill in US history and Republicans using the same claim to bash it.
The partisan posturing over the bill and its legacy is shaping up ahead of anticipated final passage in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that the bill is both the “most progressive” in history and unifying for Democrats.
“Sen. [Joe] Manchin and Sen. [Bernie] Sanders and a range of Democrats in between just voted to support a $1.9 trillion package that is the most progressive piece of legislation in history. So, I would say we feel pretty good about that,” Psaki said at her daily press briefing.
It will be Biden’s first major legislative achievement as president barring last-minute surprises such as a possible left-wing revolt over watered down provisions approved Saturday by the Senate.
Republicans say the bill is bloated and likely to spur inflation, but some of the most fiercely attacked items were removed in the Senate, such as in increase of the hourly national minimum wage to $15 and $140 million for a rail project near House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s California district.
But many conservative-derided provisions remained and it won no Republican votes in the Senate after Republicans uniformly opposed the earlier version in the House.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said Monday on Fox News that “if you’re in the farming business right now, this bill forgives 120 percent of your loan based on your race. These people in the Congress today, the House and the Senate on the Democratic side are out of control liberals and God help us all if we don’t check and balance them in 2022.”
Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said just 9 percent of the funds are directly related to the pandemic, echoing a consistent GOP objection.
“The other 91 percent is money for the arts, humanities, transportation, abortion, loan forgiveness for students, loan forgiveness for ‘socially disadvantaged farmers’,” Blackburn said on Fox News.
Blackburn said she also objected to a provision granting 15 weeks of paid leave for federal workers who contract COVID-19, need to isolate due to exposure or who need to care for kids whose schools are closed.
Republicans largely say the bill is poorly focused and that much of the funds won’t be spent until after the pandemic ends. For example, it contains $129 billion for K-12 schools, but the Congressional Budget Office estimates that about 95 percent won’t be spent in 2021 because funds approved for schools last year haven’t been spent.
The bill contains $350 billion in state and local aid and $75 billion for vaccination, testing and other pandemic medical supplies. House Republicans led by Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) attacked the state and local aid, citing the bill’s estimated $40 billion in aid for California, despite a recent $10 billion budget surplus.
The bill grants $1,400 stimulus checks to adults who earn up to $75,000 per year, with smaller amounts for earners under $80,000. An extra $1,400 check is awarded for each dependent child, and parents gain a new annual tax credit of $3,000-$3,600 per child.
In the Senate version of the bill, stimulus checks were eliminated for people who earn between $80,000 and $100,000 per year and a weekly federal unemployment supplement was slashed from $400 in the House version to $300.
There’s short-term benefit for the White House in describing the bill as the “most progressive” in history, even if that language is ripe for political exploitation by conservatives.
The bill faces a final phase of uncertainty as left-wing Democrats in the House grumble about the Senate’s changes. The bill previously passed the House 219-212 with two Democrats in opposition, meaning even a few Democratic defectors could trigger problems.
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), vice chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, on Friday said she wasn’t sure if she could support the final version of the bill after changes made by the Senate.
She tweeted: “This trend is outrageous: Eliminating $15/hr Reducing thresholds for payments (cutting off ~400k New Jerseyans) Cuts to weekly payments What are we doing here? I’m frankly disgusted with some of my colleagues and question whether I can support this bill.”
Psaki said Monday that the White House is continuing to pressure House members ahead of the Tuesday vote.
“[White House legislative affairs staffers] are certainly not taking anything for granted. They’re picking up the phone, checking in with offices, making sure they have their questions answered,” Psaki said.
“They’re asking the president, the vice president, [White House Chief of Staff] Ron Klain and other senior members of the administration to make calls as needed. I would say we feel it’s on a path to passing the House and certainly Speaker Pelosi has spoken to that. But we are at the ready — everybody’s on call whenever they’re needed and that certainly applies to the president.”