United States President Joe Biden on Tuesday called on Senate Democrats to continue to focus on passing a $ 1.9 trillion COVID-19 aid package that is now pending in Congress despite Republican opposition.
Biden met with Senate Democrats via virtual conference call during their weekly party meetings on Tuesday and spoke to a group of 10 Democratic Senators on Monday.
Getting the $ 1.9 trillion bill passed swiftly is a top priority for Biden as his new administration seeks to take control of the U.S. coronavirus pandemic and get the troubled U.S. economy back on its feet.
“President Biden pitched our entire caucus today and said we need to get this bill passed and get it passed soon,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
“That’s why the Americans sent us here,” said Schumer.
Biden and Democratic leaders in Congress have set an ambitious schedule to get the $ 1.9 trillion bill to the president for signature by March 14, and Schumer said the Senate is on the right track, to comply with this deadline.
But Senate Democrats must remain united in the face of Republican opposition over disputes over unemployment benefits and minimum wages.
Senate minority chairman Mitch McConnell said Republicans view the legislation as excessive and unnecessary as the US moves towards a recovery from the pandemic.
“This is an extremely expensive proposal that has largely nothing to do with the problem,” McConnell told reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday.
“We’re going to fight this in every possible way. I hope the Senate Republicans will end up unanimously against it, ”said McConnell.
Senate minority chairman Mitch McConnell said after the weekly Republicans political lunch on Capitol Hill he expected all 50 Republican senators to reject Biden’s $ 1.9 trillion bailout plan [Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]The U.S. Senate is preparing to debate and vote on the legislation this week. The bill voted the House on a party line on Feb.27, and the Senate will now consider a number of amendments before sending them back to House for final approval.
The bill would expand federal unemployment benefits to include unemployed people, temporarily passed by Congress at the start of the pandemic and slated to expire on March 14.
The advanced payments would be available by the end of August, increasing from $ 300 per week to $ 400 per week.
Some Democrats are pushing to lessen the gain and lengthen the extension of time to benefit.
The US unemployment rate was 6.3 percent in January and 10.1 million people were unemployed, roughly double the pre-pandemic unemployment rate.
Biden has proposed raising the U.S. minimum wage in legislation to $ 15 an hour, and the Democratic-controlled House has approved the measure. However, the increase in the minimum wage faces an uphill battle in the Senate.
Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have stated that they will not support the increase in the minimum wage.
With the Senate split 50% between Republicans and Democrats, the opposition from Manchin and Sinema means there likely aren’t enough votes in the Senate to pass the wage increase.
“I expect a hearty debate. I expect some late nights on the floor. But the American people overwhelmingly support this legislation, ”Schumer said, citing public opinion
The number of new cases in the US has declined and has hit its lowest level since October – 48,000 on Monday, according to The COVID Tracking Project. Deaths and hospital stays are also falling as the spread of vaccines has started.
However, Biden administration officials responsible for managing the U.S. response to the pandemic are warning that COVID-19 numbers appear to be on a plateau and as new, more contagious, and deadly variants of the virus spread could begin to rise.
“I remain deeply concerned about a possible postponement of the course of the pandemic,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky at a March 1 briefing at the White House.
“At this level of cases where variants spread, we will completely lose the hard-earned ground we gained,” said Walensky.
According to global data from Johns Hopkins University, the US has suffered more deaths than any other nation, killing 515,000.