US President Joe Biden on Saturday called on the Senate to quickly vote on a 1.9-trillion-dollar pandemic relief bill, hours after the proposal passed the House of Representatives.
“Now the bill moves to the United States Senate, where I hope it will receive quick action. We have no time to waste,” Biden said in brief remarks delivered at the White House.
The bill is a cornerstone of Biden’s economic recovery plan for the United States, and its passage in Congress would mark his first major legislative achievement as president.
“If we act now – decisively, quickly and boldly – we can finally get ahead of this virus, we can finally get our economy moving again, and the people of this country have suffered far too much for too long. We need to relieve that suffering,” said.
The House of Representatives, dominated by Biden’s Democrats, approved the bill by a narrow majority of 219 to 212. The next step is for the Senate to consider the House bill, possibly make changes to it, and then vote on it.
Biden’s proposal was dealt a setback in the Senate after the official in charge of procedural rules in the upper chamber ruled that a nationwide hike in the minimum wage to 15 dollars per hour could not be attached to the legislation.
The wage hike was a priority for the White House, but its cancellation could help the relief bill’s chances of passing in the Senate, where the provision had been less popular.
The size of Biden’s proposed measures would be equivalent to nearly 10 per cent of US economic output. Republicans oppose such a large package, but Democrats controll both chambers of Congress, albeit just barely in the Senate.
Biden says the package will boost the economy and create millions of new jobs. Among other things, it provides for direct payments to private households, funding measures for coronavirus tests and for the distribution of vaccines, as well as additional aid for the unemployed.
The bill needs to be approved by Congress before unemployment insurance benefits expire on March 14.