WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — President Joe Biden marked a major milestone Friday after signing a sweeping $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package into law.
Biden signed the American Rescue Plan – one of the largest stimulus measures in U.S. history – in a brief Oval Office ceremony Thursday. The president and Vice President Kamala Harris delivered remarks on the coronavirus relief, which includes extended emergency unemployment benefits, direct payments to millions of Americans and spending for vaccines and testing.
The pair spoke from the White House Rose Garden Friday along with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“I promised the American people, and I guess it’s becoming an overused phrase, that help was on the way,” Biden said. “But today, with the American Rescue Plan now signed into law, we’ve delivered on that promise. And I don’t mean I’ve delivered, we’ve delivered.”
Biden thanked Democratic members of Congress for passing the bill, including Senator Bernie Sanders and Congressman Jim Clyburn for their support. He also acknowledged the efforts of Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
“This law is not the end of our efforts. I view it as only the beginning,” Biden said. “To every American watching, help is here and we will not stop working for you.”
The relief package is set to provide $400 billion in direct payments of $1,400 per person, helping individuals earning less than $80,000 annually and couples making less than $160,000.
Nearly 160 million households are expected to get payments, according to White House estimates.
Direct deposits are expected to hit people’s bank accounts as early as this weekend, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.
“People can expect to start seeing direct deposits hit their bank accounts as early as this weekend. This is, of course, just the first wave,” Psaki said. Payments to eligible Americans will continue throughout the course of the next several weeks, she added.
The bill also includes an expanded child tax credit of up to $3,000 per child, or $3,600 for each child under age 6. The Internal Revenue Service will pay part of that in monthly installments of $250 or $300 from July through December, adding a benefits distributor role to the revenue collection agency’s responsibilities.
Making one-off payments to those who regularly file tax returns should not be a struggle for the IRS, tax experts said.
So what comes next?
Democrats will soon face several tests in their ability to push Biden’s agenda priorities forward. It’s likely to be a long slog with a split Congress and pressure from centrists to try to win support from Republicans.
Some Democratic lawmakers are considering changing historic filibuster rules to overcome opponents and speed the bills along.
While it takes 60 votes to overcome a filibuster on legislation, a tall order in the evenly split Senate that would require at least 10 votes from Republicans, it also takes 50 votes to change the Senate’s rules. As many as 10 Democrats are hesitant to eliminate the tool.
The filibuster gives the minority enormous ability to halt action, and Senate Democrats used it plenty of times when they were out of power. But filibuster opponents say it has been abused over the years, particularly as a mid-century tool to delay civil rights legislation, and call it a historically racist tool that affords the minority too much power over the majority.
Schumer said all options remain on the table.
“We need a big bold agenda, just like we passed,” Schumer said this week, vowing to “do everything we can to get that bold agenda done.”
If Republicans “won’t join us in that,” he said, “our Congress is going to come together and figure out next steps.”
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters this week that “the legislative filibuster is the essence of the Senate.”
“It’s the only legislative body in the world where a majority is not enough in most things on the legislative side,” McConnell said. “It should not be changed.”
The House is rapidly sending the 50-50 split Senate a series of bills, which include the voting rights expansion, the federal minimum wage hike and stricter background checks for gun purchases.
Biden’s infrastructure package may be one bill that could win over Republican support. Road- and bridge-building legislation has a long history of bipartisan support from lawmakers who need to deliver investments back home. If the House and Senate allow lawmakers to request earmarked funds for specific needs, a topic also under discussion, that could also boost backing.
But the bill is likely to be vast, and the other provisions on climate change or immigration may drive Republicans away.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report. Reporting by AP’s Lisa Mascaro and Reuters’ Jeff Mason and Nandita Bose.