WASHINGTON, D.C., USA — Congress approved a landmark $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill Wednesday, placing President Joe Biden on the cusp of an early triumph that advances Democratic priorities and showcases the unity his party will need to forge future victories.
Biden is set to sign the bill into law on Friday and is expected to go around the U.S. explaining what is in the bill, and laying out the assistance that will be going to households and businesses around the country.
House and Senate Republicans have unanimously opposed the package as bloated, crammed with liberal policies, and heedless of signs the dual crises are easing.
Maine Democratic Rep. Jared Golden voted against the package in February before it passed to the Senate and reaffirmed his opposition Wednesday ahead of the vote. Golden was the only Democrat to vote against the plan’s final passage on Wednesday.
A spokesperson for Golden told NEWS CENTER Maine the congressman is "not available for interviews," regarding his vote.
“My vote today should not be construed as an unwillingness to support my constituents and the economy through this pandemic. That very willingness is why I have supported $4 trillion in spending in the last year on food assistance, child care subsidies, relief for renters and homeowners, federal unemployment assistance, and support for small businesses," Golden said in a statement. "However, many of these programs are not currently at risk of running out of funding, thanks to the nearly $1 trillion bill we passed in late December, and some of these programs are only just now beginning to be distributed to people in Maine."
[See Golden's full statement at the end of this story.]
Maine Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree, however, voted for the final passage of the package, called the “American Rescue Plan.” In a statement after the vote, Pingree called the plan “one of the most most important pieces of legislation Congress will ever pass.”
“With this vote, 90% of American households will get a stimulus check; schools and local and state governments will receive the funding they so desperately need to fill in the gaps; renters will be able to stay in their homes; families will be able to put food on the table; more vaccine shots will go into arms; and reliable broadband will become more accessible for rural states like Maine. This bill will also cut child poverty in half and create life-changing opportunity for the next generation and their parents,” Pingree said. “Without significant action, the economic damage caused by COVID-19 will last well beyond the pandemic. As someone who has long believed that government can and should be a force for good in our lives, I’m proud to have supported this legislation from the beginning. Maine families will feel lasting relief when this bill is signed into law by President Biden.”
For Biden and Democrats, the bill is essentially a canvas on which they've painted their core beliefs — that government programs can be a benefit, not a bane, to millions of people and that spending huge sums on such efforts can be a cure, not a curse. The measure so closely tracks Democrats' priorities that several rank it among the top achievements of their careers, and despite their slender congressional majorities there was never real suspense over its fate.
They were also empowered by three dynamics: their unfettered control of the White House and Congress, polls showing robust support for Biden's approach, and a moment when most voters care little that the national debt is soaring toward a stratospheric $22 trillion. Neither party seems very troubled by surging red ink, either, except when the other is using it to finance its priorities, be they Democratic spending or GOP tax cuts.
According to a Politico-Morning Consult poll, 75 percent of American voters support the American Rescue Plan, while just 18 percent oppose it.
A dominant feature of the bill is initiatives making it one of the biggest federal thrusts in years to assist lower- and middle-income families. Included are expanded tax credits over the next year for children, child care, and family leave, plus spending for renters, feeding programs, and people's utility bills.
The measure provides up to $1,400 direct payments to most Americans, extended emergency unemployment benefits and hundreds of billions for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, schools, state and local governments and ailing industries from airlines to concert halls. There is aid for farmers of color and pension systems, and subsidies for consumers buying health insurance and states expanding Medicaid coverage for lower earners.
The expansiveness is a chief GOP talking point.
“It's not focused on COVID relief. It's focused on pushing more of the far-left agenda," said No. 2 House GOP leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana.
Following the bill's passage Wednesday, Biden said, "For weeks now, an overwhelming percentage of Americans – Democrats, Independents, and Republicans – have made it clear they support the American Rescue Plan. Today, with final passage in the House of Representatives, their voice has been heard."
"This legislation is about giving the backbone of this nation – the essential workers, the working people who built this country, the people who keep this country going – a fighting chance," Biden said.
"On Friday, I look forward to signing the American Rescue Plan into law at the White House – a people’s law at the people’s house."
Golden's full statement:
“I will vote against the coronavirus relief legislation passed by the Senate over the weekend.
While the Senate made modest changes to the legislation, some of those changes undermined parts of the bill I do support, and others were insufficient to address my concerns with the overall size and scope of the bill. Although I support the Senate’s effort to reduce the number of wealthier households that will receive stimulus checks, they did not go far enough, and other changes — like removing the minimum wage increase or providing a lower unemployment benefit — undermined policies that I support. I voted for a $15 minimum wage in the last Congress, and given the opportunity, I intend to do so again.
I know there are people who will continue to need assistance getting through the final stages of this pandemic, which is why I have argued that Congress should have addressed their needs with a targeted bill that extends unemployment benefits, funds vaccine distribution, and increases investments in our public health infrastructure.
My vote today should not be construed as an unwillingness to support my constituents and the economy through this pandemic. That very willingness is why I have supported $4 trillion in spending in the last year on food assistance, child care subsidies, relief for renters and homeowners, federal unemployment assistance, and support for small businesses. However, many of these programs are not currently at risk of running out of funding, thanks to the nearly $1 trillion bill we passed in late December, and some of these programs are only just now beginning to be distributed to people in Maine.
When combined with the over $4 trillion we have already spent battling the coronavirus, borrowing and spending hundreds of billions more in excess of meeting the most urgent needs poses a risk to both our economic recovery and the priorities I would like to work with the Biden Administration to achieve, like rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure and fixing our broken and unaffordable healthcare system.”