News/Op-Ed: Congress Passes President Biden’s First Signature Piece of Legislation, The American Rescue Plan
by Joshua Hernandez, Editor-In-Chief
The first major piece of legislation for the Biden administration comes with a hefty price tag of $1.9 Trillion and has garnered bipartisan public support and minimal praise from Republicans in Congress. Despite opposition to the American Rescue Plan, the bill features heavy COVID-19 relief that would provide stability for American workers and families.
On Saturday, March 6th, the Senate passed the American Rescue Plan in a razor thin party line vote of 50-49. While the Biden administration’s first landmark piece of legislation has received bipartisan public support according to various polls, Senate Republicans were vocal about their opposition to the legislation, hence the close vote.
Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) was the lone Senator to not vote, as he was attending to family matters back home. However, even if Senator Sullivan would have presumably voted against the American Rescue Plan, it would’ve passed anyway since Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris would’ve held the tie breaking vote.
Despite looming threats from Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Senator Krysten Sinema (D-AZ), who planned to vote against the bill had changes not been made to the original bill passed by the House of Representatives, Democrats were able to work with the two Senators to make changes to the bill and secure the votes of the “blue dog” moderates in Manchin and Sinema.
The American Rescue Plan officially passed the House of Representatives again today after a new vote, due to the bill being changed from its original form. In and of itself, the American Rescue Plan includes $1,400 stimulus check payments to individuals making up to $75,000 per year and a massive $350 billion in aid to both state and local governments across the country. Moreover, the Plan allocates $14 billion in funds for vaccine distributions, another huge point of advocacy for President Biden since the start of his presidency.
The Plan also includes $300 in weekly unemployment benefits that will run through September of this year. In the original bill passed by the House of Representatives, the weekly unemployment benefits would have been $400, however, the aforementioned opposition by Senator Joe Manchin forced Democrats to amend the figure. Finally, the Plan includes a child allowance of up to $3,600 for every family across the nation.
A notable change in the new version of the American Rescue Plan is the elimination of a provision that would have gradually increased the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. It was removed after a controversial decision by the Senate Parliamentarian and vocal bipartisan opposition.
According to various White House sources, there is a growing belief within the Biden Administration that the American Rescue Plan would cut child poverty in half, making it one of the most ambitious efforts to cut poverty in the past few decades. In addition to including increases in subsidies for child care, the bill features a broadening of eligibility under the Affordable Care Act and a wide expansion of rental assistance and food stamps.
Other overlooked aspects of the bill are that it would allocate a whopping $12 billion to nutrition assistance programs and money that would aid in reopening businesses nationwide; $45 billion in rental, utility, and mortgage assistance, $30 billion for transit agencies; millions of dollars more for small business and live venues; and large federal subsidies and protections for individuals to keep the health care they received from their places of employment if they had lost their jobs during the pandemic.
According to White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, once President Biden signs the American Rescue Plan into law, Americans nationwide should expect their stimulus checks towards the end of this month.