House passes $1.9T pandemic bill on near party-line vote

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Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., meets with reporters before the House votes to pass a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package, during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, Feb. 26, 2021. Pelosi is flanked by Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., left, and Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON – The House approved a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill early Saturday in a win for President Joe Biden, even as top Democrats tried assuring agitated progressives that they’d revive their derailed drive to boost the minimum wage.

The new president’s vision for flushing cash to individuals, businesses, states and cities battered by COVID-19 passed on a near party-line 219-212 vote. That ships the massive measure to the Senate, where Democrats seem bent on resuscitating their minimum wage push and fights could erupt over state aid and other issues.

Democrats said the still-faltering economy and the half-million American lives lost demanded quick, decisive action. GOP lawmakers, they said, were out of step with a public that polling shows largely views the bill favorably.

“I am a happy camper tonight," Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., said Friday. “This is what America needs. Republicans, you ought to be a part of this. But if you're not, we're going without you."

Republicans said the bill was too expensive and said too few education dollars would be spent quickly to immediately reopen schools. They said it was laden with gifts to Democratic constituencies like labor unions and funneled money to Democratic-run states they suggested didn't need it because their budgets had bounced back.

“To my colleagues who say this bill is bold, I say it's bloated," said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. “To those who say it's urgent, I say it's unfocused. To those who say it's popular, I say it is entirely partisan.”

Moderate Democratic Reps. Jared Golden of Maine and Kurt Schrader of Oregon were the only two lawmakers to cross party lines. That sharp partisan divide is making the fight a showdown over who voters will reward for heaping more federal spending to combat the coronavirus and revive the economy atop the $4 trillion approved last year.

The battle is also emerging as an early test of Biden's ability to hold together his party's fragile congressional majorities — just 10 votes in the House and an evenly divided 50-50 Senate.