Updated February 26, 2021 - 11:21 pm
WASHINGTON — House Democrats muscled through a massive $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package Friday over Republican opposition to the cost of the bill that would provide $1,400 checks to individuals, and send more than $4 billion to the state of Nevada, its counties and cities hard hit by the pandemic.
The bill passed mostly along party lines, 219-212, with Nevada lawmakers voting with their respective Democratic and Republican caucuses.
The bill now heads to the Senate.
President Joe Biden is pushing Congress to pass the sweeping measure, noting that it has $20 billion for vaccines, money to help schools reopen, small business loans and an increase in federal unemployment assistance of $400 per week.
In a plea to Republicans who have criticized the cost of the bill as a Democratic “wish list,” Biden asked GOP lawmakers what they would have him cut from the bill designed to ramp up vaccinations, jump-start the economy and put people back to work.
Nevada Democrats Dina Titus, Steven Horsford and Susie Lee have backed the bill, with all three working through committees to adjust formulas and designate funds and programs to help the state, which has the second highest unemployment rate in the country, at 9.2 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“People in Las Vegas are struggling right now to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads,” Titus said, adding that because of the “decline in travel and tourism, we have the highest unemployment rate of any large metro area in the country.”
Horsford said that, most importantly, “The bill provides the funding that we need to make sure we can vaccinate everyone as soon as possible.”
Horsford is a member of the House Ways and Means Committee that increased federal unemployment in the bill from $300 per week to $400 per week, as well as providing $1,400 for people making less than $75,000 per year, and additional child tax credits to be paid out monthly.
A family of four with an annual income of less than $150,000 would receive $5,400 in direct payments.
“It’s putting money in the pockets of families who have been bearing the brunt of this pandemic before it started,” said Horsford, whose congressional district stretches from North Las Vegas to Pahrump, a swath of Nevada that includes rural and working-class neighborhoods.
Titus led a delegation effort to have federal funding formulas for pandemic relief include unemployment rates to better target the relief to cities, states and regions that need it most.
Under the CARES Act passed in 2020, the state received about $1.25 billion in federal assistance.
The American Rescue Plan would provide $350 billion to states and cities. It would send more than $4 billion to Nevada, its counties and cities, more than three-fold the amount received last year.
Clark County, Las Vegas, Henderson, Washoe County, Reno and other smaller cities in the state will receive direct funds with flexible guidelines to spend on schools, first responders, health care and other needs.
Lee, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, said the funding would help the state recover.
“The American Rescue Plan is the relief we need to get Nevadans back to work, our kids back in school and our businesses open and thriving,” Lee said.
She is working with Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., and Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., to provide more funding to states for Medicare during unexpected economic downfalls.
Lee said that legislation, which has no GOP sponsors yet, would provide Nevada with additional funds to reimburse health care providers and those who receive health care under the program. That bill is expected to be taken up this year.
Meanwhile, Republicans said the rescue bill passed by the House was larded with Democratic favors to special interest groups and programs that were entirely unrelated to the pandemic and improving health care and the economy.
“They are using the coronavirus as an excuse to justify funding pet projects,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
Rep. Mark Amodei, the only Nevada Republican in Congress, voted with GOP leaders, whose overall concern was the steep cost of the sweeping rescue package following two relief bills passed last year.
McCarthy said the bill includes $100 million to fund a tunnel outside Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s congressional district in California and $50 million for Planned Parenthood.
GOP lawmakers also took aim at a $570 million to provide paid leave to federal employees to care for children home from school, although Democrats quickly noted that tax credits would offer similar incentives to businesses and private sector workers to care for children.
The House bill also includes language to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $15 per hour — an item that the Senate parliamentarian said could not be included under budget reconciliation rules to avoid a 60-vote threshold and filibuster in the Senate.
Senate Democratic leaders, with opposition from progressives, are expected to eliminate the minimum wage proposal in their version of the bill that if passed would need to be returned to the House for approval.
Biden administration officials have bluntly said they do not want to fight over Senate rules. They want the bill passed by Congress and on the president’s desk by March 14, when current federal unemployment assistance runs out.
Democrats control the 50-50 Senate with Vice President Kamala Harris providing the tie-breaking vote.
But divisions in the Democratic caucus make passage of the rescue bill more complicated and vulnerable to defeat.
Moderates like Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona oppose the $15 minimum wage hike, while progressives Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts want to keep the raise in the bill.
Republicans sharply oppose the increase, and Democratic defections would sink the bill in the divided Senate.
Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said they will work to pass an increased minimum wage, but shied away from demanding that it be kept in the rescue package and left unsaid whether it would be taken up later.
Meanwhile, the rescue bill includes $130 billion for schools to modify classrooms and reduce class sizes to protect students as they return to their desks.
Every Nevada school district would receive assistance under that plan, taking financial pressure off state and county governments and local taxpayers to foot the entire bill to modernize and open buildings.
The Clark County School District would receive $880 million and Nye County, $10 million, to make necessary changes, Horsford said.
Horsford said the funding would provide for changes that would allow “our children to return to a sense of normalcy.”