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In what will be President Biden's first legislative victory, the U.S. House of Representatives is set to approve this Friday evening a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus and aid package.
Marred by the news that a popular $15 minimum wage hike will be left out of the audacious bill, the measure will send a new round of economic aid to households, small businesses, state and local governments suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 500,000 and left tens of millions unemployed in the United States.
While Republicans oppose the bill's cost and have offered Biden a slimmed-down alternative, the White House and many economists insist a large package is needed to pay for vaccines and other medical supplies to confront a pandemic that has upended most aspects of life in the U.S.
Embedded in the bill is the first federal minimum wage hike since 2009, which would raise it from the current $7.25 to $15 an hour by 2025.
While a top White House economic adviser has said Friday that Biden has not given up on a $15 minimum wage, the Senate ruled that the provision could not be allowed in the Senate version of the bill given the chamber’s “reconciliation” rules, which will enable it to advance in the Senate with a simple majority instead of the 60 needed for most legislation.
After the Senate's ruling, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, said that "House Democrats believe that the minimum wage hike is necessary” and that it would stay in the House version of the bill.
76% of voters support President Biden's $1.9T relief bill that is set for a House vote on Friday, according to a Politico / Morning Consult poll. https://t.co/JDf7CKakuH
Among the significant elements featured in the bill are $1,400 direct payments to individuals, a $400-per-week federal unemployment benefit through August 29, and assistance for those having difficulties paying their rent and home mortgages during the pandemic.
Pelosi told reporters on Thursday the bill is "about putting vaccinations in the arm, money in the pocket, children in the schools, workers in their jobs. It’s what this country needs.“
The bill, called Biden's America Rescue Plan Act, has received harsh criticism from Republicans, who call it "a liberal wishlist giveaway," with House minority leader calling it "too costly, too corrupt."
Because Republicans have for months blocked new rounds of aid to state and local governments, efforts to craft a bipartisan COVID-19 aid bill fizzled shortly after Biden was sworn in as president on January 20, following a series of bipartisan bills enacted in 2020 totaling around $4 trillion.