WASHINGTON – Democrats pushed half of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan through a House committee Thursday, advancing $1,400 payments for millions of Americans and other initiatives that Republicans call too costly, economically damaging and brazenly partisan.
The Ways and Means Committee approved its $940 billion chunk of Biden’s proposal on a 25-18 party-line vote, highlighting a frenzied week that’s seeing a dozen House panels fashion contributions to the sprawling measure. On Wednesday, the Education and Labor Committee approved another top Democratic priority — a boost in the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 hourly over five years.
“Yes it will. We’re very proud of that,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters when asked if the overall House bill would include the minimum wage increase. Its fate remains precarious in the more moderate Senate.
The House bill would provide hundreds of billions for state and local governments and to boost vaccination efforts, raise tax credits for children and increase unemployment benefits and federal health care assistance. Democratic leaders hope for House passage later this month, with Senate approval and a bill on Biden’s desk by mid-March.
In committee after committee, Republicans futilely launched waves of amendments at the Democratic measures in an attempt to derail the new president’s top initial priority — a massive bill aimed at stemming the deadly pandemic and resuscitating an economy that’s shed 10 million jobs and shuttered countless businesses.
And while Democrats fended the amendments off, their control of the House and Senate is razor thin. Divisions between progressives and moderates and solid GOP opposition means the bill’s final contours can still shift.
Republicans’ amendments spotlighted what they see as political soft spots they can exploit. Their themes were clear: Democrats are overspending, hurting workers and employers’ job markets, being too generous to some immigrants, inviting fraud and rewarding political allies — allegations that Democrats dismiss as ludicrous.
And while the GOP amendments were beaten back, they forced Democrats to take positions that could tee up GOP campaign ads for the 2022 elections.