House aims to pass Biden's COVID spending bill this month

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House Democrats said they plan to pass President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 aid package by late February, clearing the way for Senate consideration ahead of a March deadline, when federal unemployment runs out.

“Next week, we will be writing the legislation to create a path to final passage for the Biden American Rescue Plan, so that we can finish our work before the end of February,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote to fellow Democrats.

Congress this week cleared the way for the massive spending package to pass the Senate without the usual filibuster hurdle by passing a budget resolution. The resolution includes language that will allow the Senate to pass the measure with 51 votes. Democrats control 50 votes and the tiebreaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris.

House committee chairs met with Biden and Harris on Friday to discuss the legislation the panels will start drafting next week.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, said the House could vote on the legislation the week of Feb. 22.

“The committees largely believe they’re going to need the two weeks” to write the bill, he added.

The massive spending legislation is expected to track closely to the Biden package scope and cost.

Biden’s proposal includes a new round of $1,400 stimulus checks, enhanced unemployment benefits worth $400 per week, $350 billion for states and local governments, $15 billion for small businesses, $30 billion in rental assistance, and $20 billion for vaccine distribution, among other provisions.

The Biden proposal would also raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour. Democrats say they hope to include the wage increase but aren’t sure whether it will conform to the special rules allowing the bill to pass the Senate with just 51 votes.

Democrats appear determined to pass a bill quickly, putting aside calls by Republicans to slow down and work on a bipartisan agreement.

Ten Republicans met with Biden Monday and left the White House encouraged the talks would continue.

Republicans are seeking a much smaller package that dedicates funding to the vaccine, treating COVID-19, and stimulus checks targeted to lower-income earners. Democrats and Biden said the GOP plan falls short.

Republicans scored a victory Thursday night in the Senate, winning overwhelming passage of a bipartisan budget amendment that would prevent the next round of stimulus checks from going to “upper-income taxpayers.”

In the meeting Friday, Biden told Democrats he plans to keep talking to the GOP.

“He wants to pursue a bipartisan strategy,” House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat, said. “But, you have to move on when you know you can’t get there.”

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