House committees are meeting this week to strengthen COVID relief legislation as Republicans launch counter-amendments and cite the cost of the plan.
WASHINGTON — Republicans are attacking Democrats’ $1.9 trillion COVID-19 aid package as too expensive, economically damaging and overtly partisan, attempting on all sides to derail the top priority of new President Joe Biden as it continues to a congress goes that his party only narrowly checks .
Five House committees on Wednesday worked on sweeping legislation that would send $1,400 payments to some Americans. It would also bring in hundreds of billions for state and local governments and to boost vaccination efforts, increase tax credits for children and increase unemployment benefits. Democratic leaders hope to pass the House later this month, with Senate approval and a bill on Biden’s desk in mid-March.
“Now is the time,” said Richard Neal, D-Mass, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, referring to the human and economic toll of the pandemic. His committee will work on the measure until Friday.
While the committees worked, Republicans launched amendments that drew attention to what they see as the legislation’s weaknesses. Their themes were clear: Democrats outsource too much, hurt workers’ and employers’ labor markets, open doors to fraud, and reward political allies — accusations Democrats dismiss as ridiculous.
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The proposals indicated that Biden’s plan will face stiff Republican opposition in a House and Senate that Democrats have few votes over, while forcing Democrats to take positions that could support the GOP campaign ads for the 2022 election. activate.
There were amendments to cut the additional $400 in weekly unemployment benefits Democrats want to provide through August and exempt the smallest businesses from Democrats’ plans to gradually raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $15. per hour.
Others would impose emergency funds to help schools reopen safely, requiring schools to offer in-person classes or give the money to parents for education savings accounts if they remain closed. Still others are said to have extended aid to renters, homeowners and the airline industry not long after the pandemic, distributing $26 billion for urban transportation systems between cities and rural areas, which many Republicans represent.
“I don’t know if the White House knows this, but you’re supposed to create jobs, not kill them,” Texas Rep. Kevin Brady, the top Republican on the Ways and Means panel. He said that while his party has backed more than $3 trillion in previous pandemic relief bills, “whatever this rushed, partisan, special ‘stimulus’ package does, it comes with no bipartisan discussion, no ability to find common ground.”
Biden campaigned to reunite a country torn by President Donald Trump’s divisions for four years. He met with 10 GOP senators two weeks ago to discuss the COVID-19 plan in a session that seemed cordial but caused no visible movement.
Democrats say attempts to compromise with Republicans were a waste of time and resulted in a package that proved too small when President Barack Obama compromised on economic stimulus in his first year in 2009. They want to complete this initial Biden goal without stumbling and before the emergency benefits expire on March 14.
House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said in a statement that Democrats were pushing “liberal policies on the wish list” and accused them of “siding with the teacher unions,” mostly Democratic-friendly organizations that are largely opposed to reopening. from schools until they are safer.
McCarthy, who has been eyeing the 2022 election that he hopes will make him Speaker of a GOP-led House, suggested Republicans were ready to work to restore jobs, reopen schools and provide vaccines. “to those who want it”. will only weaken America and stall our recovery.”
One by one, committees rejected GOP amendments, mostly on party line votes. Democrats disputed Republican claims that, for example, a proposed $400 weekly pandemic unemployment benefit was so generous it would discourage people from seeking work.
“The whole power of this amendment is to spoil, unquoted, people by giving them too much money,” said Representative Gwen Moore, D-Wis. She said it suggested that people who have lost their jobs “don’t deserve to live above starvation wages”.
Still, Republicans expressed concern about the sheer size of the $1.9 trillion package. “Great doesn’t necessarily mean good,” said R-Ohio Representative Anthony Gonzalez. “Let’s go smart. Let’s go focused and solve the real need.”
The Congressional Budget Office expects the economy to add an average of 521,000 jobs per month this year, a sign of solid hiring made possible in part by government support. But those gains will likely depend on containing the virus. Employers started 2021 adding just 49,000 jobs in January as deaths from the disease curbed economic activity.
Meanwhile, House Democrats revealed new details of their plan.
The Energy and Commerce Committee’s portion of the plan, which is more than $180 billion, would provide billions for COVID-19 vaccination, testing, contact tracing and treatments. It would invest $1.75 billion in “genomic sequencing,” or DNA mapping of virus samples, to identify potentially more dangerous coronavirus mutations and study how quickly they spread.
It would also advance longstanding Democratic priorities, such as increasing coverage under the Obama-era Affordable Care Act.
It dangles a fiscal root for a dozen states, mostly in the South, that haven’t yet adopted the Medicaid extension law to cover more low-income adults, by proposing a temporary 5 percent increase in federal aid. propose to states that recently introduced the health care program for people on low incomes.
Among the Medicaid expansion states are major population centers such as Texas, Florida, and Georgia. Whether such a sweetener would be enough to ease longstanding Republican opposition to Medicaid expansion is uncertain.
Associated Press writers Hope Yen and Josh Boak contributed to this report.