Nancy Pelosi says the US House of Representatives will be “completely ready” to pass Joe Biden’s $1.9tn coronavirus relief bill by February 1, underscoring Democrats’ desire to push through the massive stimulus package as soon as possible.
Speaking a day after Mr Biden was sworn is as the 46th US president, Ms Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House, told reporters on Capitol Hill that the lower chamber’s lawmakers would iron out details of the relief bill in committees next week.
That would mean they were “completely ready to go to the floor” when the full chamber was in session during the first week of February, she said.
Ms Pelosi added: “It is what the people need, what the country needs to crush the virus, put money in the pockets of the American people and honour our heroes.”
The number of Americans actively collecting state jobless benefits was 5.1m as of January 9, according to new Department of Labor data released on Thursday.
Mr Biden has made passing the huge coronavirus relief package a key priority for his first 100 days in the White House. The bill — which includes $1,400 direct payments to American adults, beefed up unemployment insurance and a $15 an hour minimum wage — will need to pass the House and Senate, which are both controlled by the Democrats, before being sent to Mr Biden’s desk to be signed into law.
But Democrats expect the package to face significant obstacles given the narrow margins by which the party controls both chambers of Congress. While the legislation is likely to pass the House, the Senate, which is now split 50-50, will be tougher.
Under arcane “filibuster” rules, the bill will need to be backed by at least 10 Republican senators in order to become law.
Alternatively, parts of the legislation could be pushed through with a simple majority using a process called budget reconciliation, although that loophole can only be exploited once during a fiscal year and only be applied to policies relating to taxation and government spending.
Wrangling over the stimulus package on Capitol Hill comes amid uncertainty over the timing of the impeachment trial of Donald Trump.
Mr Trump was impeached by the House last week for inciting an insurrection but Ms Pelosi has yet to send the article to the Senate to trigger a trial. On Thursday she sidestepped questions about when she would send the article.
It remains unclear whether the Senate will hold a trial at the same time as debating a stimulus package, amid concerns that it could interfere with Democrats’ legislative agenda.
The stimulus debate highlights the limitations Congress will place on Mr Biden’s ambitions. The new president will need to satisfy the demands of progressive Democrats in both the House and Senate, while also appeasing centrists in both his own party and across the political aisle.
Lisa Murkowski, a moderate Republican senator from Alaska who is likely to be a key swing vote, said on Wednesday that the Biden administration had already reached out to her about the economic relief bill.
But other Republican moderates, including Maine’s Susan Collins and Utah’s Mitt Romney, expressed scepticism. Ms Collins said the bill was “premature” given that Congress passed a separate $900bn economic relief package last month. Mr Romney said he was “not looking for a new programme in the immediate future”.
Big business groups have largely backed Mr Biden’s calls for further stimulus and ramped up distribution of Covid-19 vaccines.
Neil Bradley, executive vice-president of the US Chamber of Commerce, said on Thursday that the group “applauds” the new president’s proposals, adding: “America must return to health before we can restore economic growth and get the 10m Americans who lost their jobs in the last year back to work.”