News World US Congress signs off on Joe Biden’s $2.5 trillion plan to help US recover from COVID
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Congress signs off on Joe Biden’s $2.5 trillion plan to help US recover from COVID

Joe Biden is wearing a winner's smile after getting House approval for his COVID relief package. Photo: Getty
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A triumphant Joe Biden is celebrating the first major legislative victory of his term with the passage of a $US1.9 trillion ($A2.5 trillion) coronavirus relief package.

Democrats who control the House passed the sweeping measure by a mostly party-line vote of 219 to 212 early on Saturday and sent it on to the Senate, where Democrats planned a legislative manoeuvre to allow them to pass it without the support of Republicans.

If the vote is tied in the Senate, evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, Vice-President Kamala Harris may have to cast a deciding vote in a chamber where Republicans control 50 seats and Democrats and their allies control the other 50.

The American Rescue Plan would pay for vaccines and medical supplies and send a new round of emergency financial aid to households, small businesses and state and local governments.

Vice-President Kamala Harris’ vote could decide the bill’s fate in the Senate. Photo: AP

Democrats said the package was needed to fight a pandemic that has killed more than 500,000 Americans and thrown millions out of work.

“The American people need to know that their government is there for them,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in debate on the House floor.

Republicans, who have broadly backed previous COVID-19 spending, said much of the current package was not necessary, highlighting elements such as a subway near Pelosi’s San Francisco district.

Only nine per cent of the total would go directly toward fighting the virus, they said.

“It just throws out money without accountability,” House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said.

The House vote amounted to a successful first test for Democrats, who hold a narrow 221-211 majority in the chamber after losing ground in the down-ticket vote at the November 3 election.

Nancy Pelosi has vowed to fight for the bill’s lifting of the minimum wage. Photo: Getty

Democrats aim to get the bill to him to sign into law before mid-March, when enhanced unemployment benefits and some other types of aid are due to expire.

The bill’s big-ticket items include $US1400 direct payments to individuals, a $US400-a-week federal unemployment benefit through August 29, and help for those in difficulty paying rents and home mortgages during the pandemic.

The House-passed bill would raise the national hourly minimum wage for the first time since 2009, to $US15 from $US7.25. The increase is a top priority for progressive Democrats.

Speaker Pelosi predicted the relief bill would pass Congress with or without the increase, and said Democrats would not give up on the matter.

– with AAP