Dems propose $1,400 payments as part of Biden virus relief

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President Joe Biden talks with reporters after arriving on the South Lawn of the White House, Monday, Feb. 8, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON – House Democrats on Monday proposed an additional $1,400 in direct payments to individuals as Congress began piecing together a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package that tracks President Joe Biden’s plan for battling the pandemic and reviving a still staggering economy.

Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee would expand tax credits for families with children, for lower-earning people and those buying health insurance on marketplaces created by the 2010 Affordable Care Act. The panel, which plans to approve the measure by week’s end, would also provide health care subsidies for some unemployed workers.

Less than three weeks into his presidency, Biden has declared that vanquishing the virus and resuscitating the economy are his top priorities. The coronavirus pandemic has killed over 460,000 Americans while the economy has lost 10 million jobs since the crisis began last year.

Monday's Ways and Means unveiling of its piece of the package — at over $900 billion, nearly half of Biden's entire plan — came with Congress' Democratic leaders hoping to rush the legislation to the president for his signature by mid-March, when existing emergency unemployment benefits expire. Their schedule reflects a desire by Biden and congressional Democrats to show they can respond swiftly and decisively to the crisis, even if, as seems likely, they must muscle past solid Republican opposition.

“While it is still our hope that Republicans will join us in doing right by the American people, the urgency of the moment demands that we act without further delay," said Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass.

Texas Rep. Kevin Brady, top Republican on that committee, criticized Democrats for driving ahead on the massive measure “without bipartisan compromise.” He said the GOP wants to focus on vaccine distribution and more targeted relief for workers, families and small businesses — essentially previewing amendments Republicans are expected to propose during committee votes this week, some of which might win Democratic backing.

House Education and Labor Committee Democrats also previewed their plans Monday. Their $350 billion package includes $130 billion to help schools reopen safely, $40 billion for colleges battered by the pandemic and a plan to gradually raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. The minimum wage increase faces an uphill climb, and even Biden has conceded it likely won't survive.

The Financial Services Committee proposal includes $50 billion to help the Federal Emergency Management Agency handle pandemic costs, plus $25 billion for struggling rental property owners and people at risk of homelessness. Transportation and Infrastructure Committee spending would include grants of $30 billion for struggling public transit agencies with starkly reduced ridership.