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Biden Hails House Passage of Virus Bill02/28 08:57

   The House approved a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill that was championed 
by President Joe Biden, the first step in providing another dose of aid to a 
weary nation as the measure now moves to a tense Senate.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- The House approved a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill 
that was championed by President Joe Biden, the first step in providing another 
dose of aid to a weary nation as the measure now moves to a tense Senate.

   "We have no time to waste," Biden said at the White House after the House 
passage early Saturday. "We act now --- decisively, quickly and boldly --- we 
can finally get ahead of this virus. We can finally get our economy moving 
again. People in this country have suffered far too much for too long."

   The new president's vision for infusing cash across a struggling economy to 
individuals, businesses, schools, states and cities battered by COVID-19 passed 
on a near party-line 219-212 vote. That ships the bill to the Senate, where 
Democrats seem bent on resuscitating their minimum wage push and fights could 
erupt over state aid and other issues.

   Democrats said that mass unemployment and the half-million American lives 
lost are causes to act despite nearly $4 trillion in aid already spent fighting 
the fallout from the disease. GOP lawmakers, they said, were out of step with a 
public that polling finds largely views the bill favorably.

   "I am a happy camper tonight," Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., said Friday. 
"This is what America needs. Republicans, you ought to be a part of this. But 
if you're not, we're going without you."

   Republicans said the bill was too expensive and said too few education 
dollars would be spent quickly to immediately reopen schools. They said it was 
laden with gifts to Democratic constituencies like labor unions and funneled 
money to Democratic-run states they suggested didn't need it because their 
budgets had bounced back.

   "To my colleagues who say this bill is bold, I say it's bloated," said House 
Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. "To those who say it's urgent, I say 
it's unfocused. To those who say it's popular, I say it is entirely partisan."

   The overall relief bill would provide $1,400 payments to individuals, extend 
emergency unemployment benefits through August and increase tax credits for 
children and federal subsidies for health insurance.

   It also provides billions for schools and colleges, state and local 
governments, COVID-19 vaccines and testing, renters, food producers and 
struggling industries like airlines, restaurants, bars and concert venues.

   Moderate Democratic Reps. Jared Golden of Maine and Kurt Schrader of Oregon 
were the only two lawmakers to cross party lines. That sharp partisan divide is 
making the fight a showdown over whom voters will reward for heaping more 
federal spending to combat the coronavirus and revive the economy atop the $4 
trillion approved last year.

   The battle is also emerging as an early test of Biden's ability to hold 
together his party's fragile congressional majorities --- just 10 votes in the 
House and an evenly divided 50-50 Senate.

   At the same time, Democrats were trying to figure out how to assuage 
liberals who lost their top priority in a jarring Senate setback Thursday.

   That chamber's nonpartisan parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, said 
Senate rules require that a federal minimum wage increase would have to be 
dropped from the COVID-19 bill, leaving the proposal on life support. The 
measure would gradually lift that minimum to $15 hourly by 2025, doubling the 
current $7.25 floor in effect since 2009.

   Hoping to revive the effort in some form, Senate Majority Leader Chuck 
Schumer, D-N.Y., is considering adding a provision to the Senate version of the 
COVID-19 relief bill that would penalize large companies that don't pay workers 
at least $15 an hour, said a senior Democratic aide who spoke on condition of 
anonymity to discuss internal conversations.

   That was in line with ideas floated Thursday night by Sens. Bernie Sanders, 
I-Vt., a chief sponsor of the $15 plan, and Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron 
Wyden, D-Ore., to boost taxes on corporations that don't hit certain minimum 
wage targets.

   House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., offered encouragement, too, calling a 
minimum wage increase "a financial necessity for our families, a great stimulus 
for our economy and a moral imperative for our country." She said the House 
would "absolutely" approve a final version of the relief bill because of its 
widespread benefits, even if it lacked progressives' treasured goal.

   While Democratic leaders were eager to signal to rank-and-file progressives 
and liberal voters that they would not yield on the minimum wage fight, their 
pathway was unclear because of GOP opposition and questions over whether they 
had enough Democratic support.

   House Ways and Means Committee Chair Richard Neal, D-Mass., sidestepped a 
question on taxing companies that don't boost pay, saying of Senate Democrats, 
"I hesitate to say anything until they decide on a strategy."

   Progressives were demanding that the Senate press ahead anyway on the 
minimum wage increase, even if it meant changing that chamber's rules and 
eliminating the filibuster, a tactic that requires 60 votes for a bill to move 

   "We're going to have to reform the filibuster because we have to be able to 
deliver," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash.

   Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., another high-profile progressive, 
also said Senate rules must be changed, telling reporters that when Democrats 
meet with their constituents, "We can't tell them that this didn't get done 
because of an unelected parliamentarian."

   Traditionalists of both parties --- including Biden, who served as a senator 
for 36 years --- have opposed eliminating filibusters because they protect 
parties' interests when they are in the Senate minority. Biden said weeks ago 
that he didn't expect the minimum wage increase to survive the Senate's rules. 
Democrats narrowly hold Senate control.

   Pelosi, too, seemed to shy away from dismantling Senate procedures, saying, 
"We will seek a solution consistent with Senate rules, and we will do so soon."

   The House COVID-19 bill includes the minimum wage increase, so the real 
battle over its fate will occur when the Senate debates its version over the 
next two weeks.

   Democrats are pushing the relief measure through Congress under special 
rules that will let them avoid a Senate GOP filibuster, meaning that if they 
are united they won't need any Republican votes.

   It also lets the bill move faster, a top priority for Democrats who want the 
bill on Biden's desk before the most recent emergency jobless benefits end on 
March 14.

   But those same Senate rules prohibit provisions with only an "incidental" 
impact on the federal budget because they are chiefly driven by other policy 
purposes. MacDonough decided that the minimum wage provision failed that test.

   Republicans oppose the $15 minimum wage target as an expense that would hurt 
businesses and cost jobs.

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