Coronavirus: Biden’s $1.9tn Covid relief bill passes House vote

Demonstrators participate in a protest outside of McDonald's corporate headquarters on January 15, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. The protest was part of a nationwide effort calling for minimum wage to be raised to $15-per-hour

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President Joe Biden’s $1.9tn (£1.4tn) relief plan to help Americans during the Covid pandemic has been approved in the House of Representatives.

The vote was along partisan lines. Two Democrats joined Republicans – who see it as too expensive – in opposing it.

The bill must now go to the evenly-divided Senate, which has already blocked a key element – doubling the US minimum wage to $15 an hour.

The package seeks to boost vaccinations and testing, and stabilise the economy.

The cash would be extended as emergency financial aid to households, small businesses and state governments.

The vote comes in the same week the US passed 500,000 coronavirus-related deaths – the largest figure of any nation in the world.

The Democrats only have a thin, 10-seat majority in the House, but they found sufficient numbers – 219 to 212 – in a vote that went into the early morning on Saturday.

President Biden has championed what he calls the American Rescue Plan as a way to help struggling Americans through Covid-19.

But Republicans say the plan is unnecessarily large and stuffed with Democratic priorities unrelated to the pandemic.

The Democrats will face a bigger battle in the Senate when the package is debated there, probably next week.

On Thursday, Elizabeth MacDonough, the Senate parliamentarian – who interprets its rules – said that raising the minimum wage would violate the budgetary limits allowed in this kind of measure.

The bill that passed in the House does still include the increase in the minimum wage.

It remains unclear how this can be solved. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said the rest of the bill will still pass, even if this section is taken out by the Senate.

But the minimum wage rise remains a key Democrat goal, particularly for the party’s progressive wing, and some top Democrats are considering a measure to penalise employers who pay less than $15 an hour.

Republicans argue the minimum wage increase would be too heavy a toll on firms struggling to rebuild following the Covid-19 outbreak.

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