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The House Has Approved $1.9 Trillion Coronavirus Relief Package

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The House of Representatives has approved a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. For those of you keeping track, with this bill, Congress has now spent roughly $6 trillion to bail the country out of the havoc caused by the pandemic. And to put that into perspective, that is about seven times larger than the stimulus passed back during the Great Recession of 2009. This latest bill includes a fresh round of $1,400 stimulus checks, also a new and expanded child tax credit, rent relief, utility relief and more money to help the uninsured buy health coverage through Obamacare. The bill passed with no support from Republicans. President Biden plans to sign the bill into law on Friday.

NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell joins us now with the latest. Hey, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi there.

KELLY: So no support from Republicans. And to lay out, Republicans say they oppose it because it's not targeted enough, they argue, at controlling the virus. They also say it's just - we don't need to spend this much because the economy is already on the path to recovery. Do they have a point?

SNELL: What we're talking about here is really a question of two really different ways of viewing the economy and this pandemic. Republicans say that GDP numbers, Wall Street, all of these things are improving. They're - you know, the unemployment rate is falling. And they point to funding for the arts and humanities programs, museums and things like that as not necessarily about the pandemic on the face. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy also compared federal spending in this bill to socialism. And he said it just isn't sustainable.

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KEVIN MCCARTHY: It showers money on special interests but spends less than 9% on actually defeating the virus.

SNELL: They're really focusing on that money, about getting vaccines out there, reopening schools. That is the core of what Republicans say the money should be spent on. And some Republicans said during the debate today on the House floor that sending checks to people is just popular. But they think people will object once they realize how much the government is spending on things that are not directly related to coronavirus relief.

KELLY: OK. Now how do Democrats respond to all that?

SNELL: You know, Democrats say that Wall Street gains really just paper over major problems in the economy that are not felt by the vast majority of people. The vast majority of people are not stockholders. And they say this bill is meant to be a big social safety net. It's supposed to have more support for the uninsured like you mentioned, more support for families with children, people who are unemployed, people who are homeless and people who are struggling to make rent.

You know, unemployment is improving, but the jobless rate is still nearly double what it was before the pandemic. And the number of long-term unemployed people is still up by 3 million this year. And that's all according to the official Bureau of Labor Statistics. There's also money in here for institutions like museums that have been shuttered or have seen revenue declines that threaten their ability to reopen when vaccines are out and distributed and people are going back in. And Democrats say this bill is about the whole system.

KELLY: Yeah. I will note that Americans, a lot of Americans seem to be on board with this legislation. Polls show fairly widespread support for it, which is something Democrats like to point to. Are there potential political downsides here, though, for Democrats?

SNELL: Well, Democrats say the Republicans will pay the price for lining up against something that is at this moment so popular. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pointed out that people who will benefit from this bill don't just vote for Democrats. And she says Republicans are voting against something they'll take advantage of later.

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NANCY PELOSI: It's typical that they vote no and take the dough. And this bill has bipartisan support across the country.

SNELL: You hear her there speaking through a mask on the House floor. But, you know, a lot depends on how this is administered. Will it go out slowly? Do schools actually reopen? Do bad actors get money? And does the economy actually improve with this infusion of cash? And that's all a risk.

KELLY: Are we done? Is this the last time we're going to see Congress voting on COVID relief?

SNELL: We don't know for sure. There - at some point in time, there is a chance they'll do an infrastructure bill. And some are framing that as COVID relief in its own right because it would be compared to work incentive programs in the New Deal that got people back to work. It really depends on whether projections about vaccine distribution and efficacy bear out.

KELLY: Thank you, Kelsey.

SNELL: Thanks for having me.

KELLY: NPR's Kelsey Snell. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.