Biden urges quick action on COVID relief package: "We have no time to waste"
President Biden urged the Senate to move quickly to pass his American Rescue Plan, hours after the House narrowly approved the $1.9 trillion legislation. In brief remarks on Saturday morning, Mr. Biden said he had spoken to Speaker Nancy Pelosi about the passage of the bill.
"Now, the bill moves to the United States Senate, where I hope it will receive quick action. We have no time to waste," Mr. 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. And the people of this country have suffered far too much for too long. We need to relieve that suffering. The American Rescue Plan does just that."
Two Democrats, Kurt Schrader of Oregon and Jared Golden of Maine, voted with Republicans in the 219-212 vote early Saturday morning. Not one Republican voted for the bill. The legislation includes $1,400 in direct checks for Americans making under $75,000, a $400 per week supplemental unemployment bonus, money for vaccine distribution, and funding to aid schools and state and local governments.
The House bill also includes a provision raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025, even though the Senate parliamentarian ruled that the bill could not include an increase of the federal minimum wage if Congress uses the budget reconciliation process. Congressional Democrats opted to use the procedural maneuver known as budget reconciliation to pass the bill, allowing it to be approved by only a simple majority in the Senate.
In the wake of the parliamentarian's ruling, Senate Democrats are now racing to finalize a new tax provision that would penalize large companies that pay low wages. The plan being drafted by aides to Senate Finance Committee chair Ron Wyden of Oregon — in close consultation with Senate Budget Chair Bernie Sanders of Vermont — would impose a 5% payroll tax penalty on "very large" companies that do not pay workers a certain amount.
Congressional Democrats hope to get the finalized package to Mr. Biden's desk by mid-March, before the expiration of several critical relief programs that were established by Congress at the end of last year.
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