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Lawmakers In The House Are Poised To Pass COVID-19 Relief Bill

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Congress is on the verge of approving one of the largest spending bills in modern U.S. history. This week, the House is set to sign off on President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID relief package. It narrowly passed the Senate over the weekend on a strict party-line vote. The president said it's a sign help is on the way.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: By passing the American Rescue Plan, we'll have heeded the voice of the American people, not ignored their voices. By passing this plan, we would have delivered real, tangible results for the American people and their families.

MARTIN: The bill includes $1,400 direct payments to many Americans. NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell is with us now. Hi, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning.

MARTIN: This is a huge bill. Tell us exactly at this point what is in it?

SNELL: Yeah, it is absolutely enormous. Aside from the $1,400 checks you mentioned there, there's money for vaccines and schools, state and local governments and small businesses. But Democrats wanted this bill in particular to focus on relief to parts of the economy that they say have been badly hurt but are less seen. They're talking about things like huge anti-poverty programs, including a child tax credit that could be paid monthly to families, funding for businesses and spaces and communities that are suffering because of yearlong closures. They say that this is a bill that's about more than just addressing the virus. And the House is set to vote on it tomorrow.

MARTIN: But the House already passed a version of this measure, right?

SNELL: Right.

MARTIN: So explain why it has to go back there.

SNELL: It has to go back because the Senate had to change the bill, and they have to vote on the exact same thing for it to go to President Biden for his signature. The changes were made in the Senate to bring moderates on board, particularly Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia. They decided to keep unemployment payments at $300 a week in this bill and only go through September 6. But for people earning under $150,000, the first $10,200 of unemployment received last year would be tax free. They also had to cut out a $15 minimum wage increase because of Senate budget rules.

MARTIN: So recent polling shows that this package is, on the whole, pretty popular with the American public.

SNELL: Right.

MARTIN: Can you explain the almost universal Republican dissent?

SNELL: They oppose it on both substantive and political terms. They say that they weren't brought in on this; they didn't get to negotiate on this. But on the substance, they say it's too big with too many unnecessary provisions. They say just about 9% of the bill is related to the coronavirus, which is something that Democrats really absolutely strongly dispute.

MARTIN: All right, NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell. Kelsey, thank you.

SNELL: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.