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Biden Calls on Senate to Pass $1.9 Trillion COVID Relief Bill After House Approval


FILE - President Joe Biden meets with business leaders to discuss a coronavirus relief package in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Feb. 9, 2021.

U.S. President Joe Biden called on the Senate Saturday to approve his $1.9 trillion COVID relief package the House of Representatives approved earlier in the day.

The spending package, which aims to provide relief to businesses, governments and millions of Americans whose lives have been upended by the coronavirus pandemic, goes to the Senate for a vote after the lower chamber’s approval.

“The people of this country have suffered far too much for far too long,” Biden said in brief remarks from the Roosevelt Room in the White House before flying to his home state of Delaware for the weekend.

“We need to relieve that suffering,” Biden added. “The American Rescue Plan does just that. It relieves the suffering and it’s time to act.”

As expected, the 219-212 House vote was largely along party lines in the Democratic-controlled chamber, giving Biden his first major legislative victory since entering office on January 20.

Most Republicans oppose the cost of the measure that would cover the costs of vaccines and other medical supplies to combat the COVID-19 pandemic that has claimed more than 508,000 lives in the United States and pushed millions out of work.

The package would also provide an additional $1,400 direct payments to individuals and emergency financial aid to households, small businesses, and local and state governments.

Emergency unemployment benefits and tax breaks to lower wage earners and families with children would be funded in the relief bill, and business sectors hurt by the pandemic’s economic fallout, such as the restaurant and airline industries, would also receive financial relief.

A federal minimum hourly wage increase from $7.25 to $15 proposed by Democrats failed to make it in the final Senate version of the bill. The parliamentarian in the Senate, the chamber's adviser on the interpretation of its rules and procedures, said Thursday the proposal had to be dropped from the bill, as required by chamber rules.

The decision by Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough forces Democrats to seek other pathways for the minimum wage proposal to pass in the face of stiff Republican opposition.

Democratic leaders reportedly are trying to reassure progressive lawmakers that they will revive efforts to increase the minimum wage.

The relief bill now goes to the evenly divided 100-member Senate, where Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris has the tie-breaking vote.