House Narrowly Passes Massive COVID-Response Bill, Including $15 Minimum Wage

The House narrowly approved Democrats’ $1.9 trillion coronavirus-relief bill early Saturday morning, in a tight 219-212 vote that mostly fell along party lines.

The bill contains $1,400 direct payments for most Americans, $170 billion to colleges and K-12 schools to cover reopening costs, and $70 billion for coronavirus testing and vaccination programs. Additionally, the relief package allocates $350 billion in funding for state, local, and tribal governments.

President Biden has pushed for the bill’s passage, however Republicans opposed some of the provisions in the legislation, arguing they were clearly extraneous.

“This isn’t a relief bill. It takes care of Democrats’ political allies while it fails to deliver for American families,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R, Calif.) told The Washington Post on Friday. “We already know what is the best stimulus plan out there: It is to fully reopen our economy. To do that, we need our economy to go back to work, back to school and back to health.”

Roughly two hours before the vote, McCarthy said that Congress wouldn’t vote on the bill until 2 a.m. on Saturday “because Democrats are so embarrassed by all the non-COVID waste in this bill that they are jamming it through in the dead of night.”

Every House Republican voted against the bill, as did just two Democrats: Representatives Jared Golden of Maine and Kurt Schrader of Oregon. Both also opposed Democrats’ $3 trillion bill last May that failed to become law.

“During challenging times, the country needs its elected leaders to work together to meet the most urgent needs in their communities,” Golden said, explaining his decision to vote against the bill, according to The Associated Press. “This bill addresses urgent needs, and then buries them under a mountain of unnecessary or untimely spending.”

House Democrats included a provision to raise the federally mandated minimum wage to $15 an hour, despite decreasing likelihood that the provision would pass the Senate.

With the Senate tied 50-50, Democrats are attempting to pass the coronavirus relief bill via budget reconciliation procedures, which allow for a simple-majority vote instead of a filibuster-proof vote of 60. However, the Senate parliamentarian ruled on Thursday night that a minimum wage increase could not pass as part of budget reconciliation.

“It is inevitable to all of us, the $15 minimum wage will be achieved,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on the House floor late Friday, “even if it is inconceivable to some, it is inevitable to us – and we will work diligently to shorten the distance between the inevitable and the inconceivable.”

Lawmakers have urgently worked to ensure approved legislation will reach Biden’s desk by March 14, when pandemic unemployment aid programs are set to expire.

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