WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives Budget Committee on Monday approved legislation with $1.9 trillion in new coronavirus relief, advancing a top priority of President Joe Biden.
The measure passed the panel on a largely party-line vote of 19-16. The full House, which has a slim Democratic majority, hopes to pass the bill later this week. It would stimulate the U.S. economy and carry out Biden’s proposals to provide additional money for COVID-19 vaccines and other medical equipment.
Last week, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer predicted his deeply divided chamber would approve the bill before March 14, when the latest round of federal unemployment benefits expires.
Biden and his fellow Democrats want to pass the plan quickly to speed a new round of direct payments to U.S. households as well as extend federal unemployment benefits and assist state and local governments. The U.S. economy has struggled over the past year under job layoffs and shuttered businesses resulting from a pandemic that has killed 500,000 Americans.
But the Democrats are using a procedural strategy called reconciliation to advance the bill, which will allow them to pass it in the Senate without Republican support.
“We are in a race against time. Aggressive, bold action is needed before our nation is more deeply and permanently scarred by the human and economic costs of inaction,” Representative John Yarmuth, chairman of the Budget Committee, said before the vote.
Republicans pushed back on the president’s price tag, which follows $4 trillion in COVID-19 aid last year.
“An estimated $1 trillion of those funds is actually yet to be spent,” Representative Buddy Carter told the committee. “Why do we need to spend an additional $2 trillion of money that is being taken from current generations?”
(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Peter Cooney)