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Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 bill moves toward final approval in House

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(C) Reuters. The U.S. Capitol is seenas the House prepares to debate the Senate’s version of U.S. President Biden’s COVID-19 relief plan in Washington

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By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden was poised on Wednesday for his first major legislative victory, as the House of Representatives moved toward final approval of his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, which forecasters predict will turbocharge the U.S. economy.

The legislation, one of the largest stimulus measures in American history, includes $400 billion for $1,400 direct payments to most Americans, $350 billion in aid to state and local governments, an expansion of the child tax credit and increased funding for vaccine distribution.

Republicans in the House threw up last-gasp efforts to slow or stop the bill’s approval in the Democratic-controlled chamber.

Biden and his fellow Democrats who narrowly control both chambers of Congress say the legislation is a critical response to a pandemic that has killed more than 528,000 people and thrown millions out of work.

“This bill attacks inequality and poverty in ways we haven’t seen in a generation,” Democratic Representative Jim McGovern, who chairs the House Rules Committee, said on Tuesday.

Republicans argue it is too costly and comes as the worst phase of the largest public health crisis in a century may have passed.

Biden may not sign the bill until later in the week, while it goes through final checks, according to people familiar with the White House’s plans.

The House convened for a two-hour morning debate on Wednesday ahead of a final vote on the bill. The chamber last month passed an earlier version of the legislation, but needs to meet again to approve changes made in the Senate over the weekend.

The House rejected an effort by Republican Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene to delay proceedings by asking for an adjournment – something she has attempted four times since taking office in January. The House voted 235-149 to plow ahead.

“This must be stopped. We have to give pause and consideration to what we’re doing,” said Greene. “This is a waste of money and a complete waste of time. Reopening America is a much better way to go.”

POPULAR SUPPORT

Although many Republicans supported coronavirus relief under former President Donald Trump’s administration, they have balked at the price tag for the Democratic package. No Republican lawmaker voted for the bill in the House or Senate, although a Morning Consult/Politico poll last month showed that 76% of voters and 60% of Republican voters supported the measure.

Democrats hold a 221-211 majority in the House and, without Republican support, can afford to lose the votes of only a few of their members.]

In the February vote in the House, two Democratic lawmakers voted against it. One of them, Kurt Schrader, said he would now vote for the bill with the Senate changes.

Some Democratic lawmakers had criticized those changes, but Pramila Jayapal, head of the left-wing Congressional Progressive (NYSE:PGR) Caucus, has told reporters she thought members would back the legislation.

The massive spending push is seen as a major driver, coupled with a quickening pace of COVID-19 inoculations and a slowing infection rate, in a rapidly brightening outlook for the nation’s economy.

Private- and public-sector economists have been marking up their growth estimates, with Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS) this week pegging 2021 economic output growth at 8.1%. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on Tuesday predicted U.S. growth would top 6% this year, up from an estimate of around 3% just three months ago.

U.S. gross domestic product decreased 3.5% in 2020, the biggest drop since 1946, as the pandemic depressed consumer spending and business investment. Recovery began in the second half.

Americans have already pocketed $1.5 trillion in savings from the previous rounds of stimulus, and this one is coming as a rising portion of the population is finding it safer to resume activities such as dining out and traveling that have been off-limits for much of the past year, costing millions of service workers their jobs.

Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 bill moves toward final approval in House

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