WASHINGTON – A Congress riven along party lines approved the landmark $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill Wednesday, as President Joe Biden and Democrats claimed a major triumph on legislation marshaling the government’s spending might against twin pandemic and economic crises that have upended a nation.
The House gave final congressional approval to the sweeping package by a near party line 220-211 vote precisely seven weeks after Biden entered the White House and four days after the Senate passed the bill. Republicans in both chambers opposed the legislation unanimously, characterizing it as bloated, crammed with liberal policies and heedless of signs the crises are easing.
“Help is here,” Biden tweeted moments after the roll call, which ended with applause from Democratic lawmakers. Biden said he'd sign the measure Friday.
Most noticeable to many Americans are provisions providing up to $1,400 direct payments this year to most people and extending $300 weekly emergency unemployment benefits into early September. But the legislation goes far beyond that.
The measure addresses Democrats’ campaign promises and Biden’s top initial priority of easing a one-two punch that first hit the country a year ago. Since then, many Americans have been relegated to hermit-like lifestyles in their homes to avoid a disease that’s killed over 525,000 people — about the population of Wichita, Kansas — and plunged the economy to its deepest depths since the Great Depression.
“Today we have a decision to make of tremendous consequence,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., “a decision that will make a difference for millions of Americans, saving lives and livelihoods.”
For Biden and Democrats, the bill is essentially a canvas on which they’ve painted their core beliefs — that government programs can be a benefit, not a bane, to millions of people and that spending huge sums on such efforts can be a cure, not a curse. The measure so closely tracks Democrats’ priorities that several rank it with the top achievements of their careers, and despite their slender congressional majorities there was never real suspense over its fate.
They were also empowered by three dynamics: their unfettered control of the White House and Congress, polls showing robust support for Biden’s approach and a moment when most voters care little that the national debt is soaring toward a stratospheric $22 trillion. Neither party seems much troubled by surging red ink, either, except when the other is using it to finance its priorities, be they Democratic spending or GOP tax cuts.