House gears up for vote on Biden's Covid relief plan
(CNN) -- The US House of Representatives is gearing up for a final vote on President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion Covid relief plan in an effort to send it to the White House to be signed into law later this week.
After the Senate passed its version of the bill over the weekend, the House is now on track for a final vote Wednesday morning.
By a vote of 219-210, the House passed on Tuesday evening a procedural motion that sets up the final vote Wednesday morning after two hours of debate. The vote was overwhelmingly along party lines, though one Democrat, Rep. Jared Golden from Maine, voted no along with Republicans.
Ahead of the procedural vote, dozens of House Republican members took to the floor, stalling debate on the rule for the relief package by lining up to seek unanimous consent to bring up a bill that requires school districts receiving federal aid to partially reopen in-person instruction, making a political point about where the Republican conference stands on the school issue.
Still, with the rule approved, the massive legislation appears on track for final passage Wednesday. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi could not hide her excitement on Tuesday about being on the verge of passing the package, saying, "I'm so excited and I just can't hide it."
Pelosi called the legislation "remarkable, historic and transformative" and House Budget Chairman John Yarmuth called the package "one of the most consequential pieces of legislation in modern history."
Pelosi would not entertain the notion that progressives would vote against the Covid relief package by saying "no, no, no" even before the reporter finished asking the question.
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer addressed Republican opposition to the bill by saying, "they'll be at the ribbon cuttings" when the schools open even though they will vote against the bill.
The sweeping aid legislation originally passed the Democrat-controlled House at the end of February, but it needs to be taken up in the chamber again following changes made to the legislation in the Senate.
The Senate version of the bill largely mirrors the $1.9 trillion package first approved by the House and laid out by President Joe Biden in January. But lawmakers made several changes, including narrowing eligibility for the stimulus checks, trimming the federal boost to unemployment benefits and nixing an increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.
The nearly $2 trillion package includes a slate of Democratic priorities, including up to $1,400 stimulus checks to many Americans, and billions of dollars for states and municipalities, schools, small businesses and vaccine distribution. It also extends a 15% increase in food stamp benefits from June to September, helps low-income households cover rent, makes federal premium subsidies for Affordable Care Act policies more generous and gives $8.5 billion for struggling rural hospitals and health care providers.
Republicans have so far been united in opposition to the legislation in both the House and the Senate.
Progressive Democrats have expressed frustration over changes made to the legislation, but top progressives are not signaling that they will jeopardize its passage in the House.
Chair of the House Progressive Caucus Rep. Pramila Jayapal told reporters Monday that she plans to support the Senate's version of the Covid-19 relief package when it comes back to the House, even though she isn't entirely happy with what's in it.
"I don't think that the changes the Senate made were good policy or good politics," Jayapal said. "However, they were relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, with the exception of course in the $15 minimum wage."
"We take the win," Jayapal added. "We believe it's our work that made it as progressive as it is."
Jayapal said she did not think there would be any defections within the progressive caucus.
"I'm not sure, but I don't think so, obviously people make their own decisions at the very last minute sometimes and I've had lots of conversations with our members who all feel frustrated that minimum wage was not included. All of us feel that way."
Democrats are racing the clock in an effort to get the legislation to the President's desk as quickly as possible.
An estimated 11.4 million workers will lose their unemployment benefits between mid-March and mid-April unless Congress passes its next coronavirus relief package quickly, a recent study by The Century Foundation found.
Biden told reporters Monday he will sign the $1.9 trillion Covid relief package, his top legislative priority, as soon as it lands on his desk.
"As soon as I get it," Biden said when asked when he would be signing the bill.
This story has been updated with additional developments Tuesday.
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