The U.S. House of Representatives early Saturday passed a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill that moved millions of Americans closer to getting a $1,400 stimulus check and millions who have lost their job due to the pandemic closer to getting months of federal unemployment benefit payments.
The legislation, which passed 219-212 with one Republican not voting, also contains billions of dollars for state and local governments and money to pay for COVID-19 vaccines, supplies to reopen schools, and help for the restaurant and airline industries.
Two Democrats joined the House Republicans in voting against the bill.
Republicans voted against the bill, saying the nearly $2 trillion price tag is too high and the bill contained too many special projects. Prior to the vote, no Republican House member had publicly supported the legislation. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, had a narrow margin to pass the bill, unable to lose more than five votes and still get it passed.
The bill will now move to the U.S. Senate for consideration.
The Senate is currently in recess, but Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, last week promised the bill would pass the Senate before March 14, the date federal unemployment benefits from the last stimulus are set to expire.
While the House version of the bill includes increasing the federal minimum wage to $15, the Senate parliamentarian on Thursday said that the Senate could not consider the minimum wage provision because it violates the reconciliation measure the bill was crafted under.
Reconciliation is a procedure that allows a budget issue to pass in the Senate on a simple majority vote instead of needing 60 votes to pass a spending measure. (Read more about reconciliation here.)
In order to be part of a bill that is crafted under the reconciliation process, a measure must be determined to have a meaningful fiscal impact that can’t be “merely incidental” to the bill.
The parliamentarian’s ruling was a setback for progressives and liberals who were hoping the bill could satisfy a longstanding desire to increase the federal minimum wage.
“This decision reinforces reconciliation cannot be used as a vehicle to pass major legislative change—by either party—on a simple majority vote,” Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said. “This decision will, over time, reinforce the traditions of the Senate.”
Two Senate Democrats had warned they did not favor such a boost in the minimum wage. Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona both said they felt the hike would lead to more unemployment as businesses struggling during the pandemic would find it difficult to increase pay for minimum wage employees.
The minimum wage provision will have to be stripped from the bill before the Senate voted on the legislation. If the bill passes the Senate, it will have to go back to the House minus the minimum wage provision to be negotiated over before another vote is taken there.
The bill’s fate in the Senate is likely to be the same as it is in the House with few if any Republicans voting for it. Senate Republicans have said the bill is excessive and filled with special projects that have nothing to do with COVID-19 relief.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky tweeted Monday, “The partisan bill Democrats are preparing is stuffed with non-COVID-related liberal goals and more Band-Aid policies as if the country were going to stay shut down another year.”