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Biden scores legislative win, Covid relief plan to move to Senate next

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US President Joe Biden scored a legislative win on early Saturday as the House passed his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package — four days after the Covid-19 death toll surpassed 500,000 in the United States.

The sprawling measure backed by Biden and described by Democrats as a moral imperative now heads to the Senate for consideration next week.

The bill, which cleared the House on a party-line vote of 219 to 212, includes a provision to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, but due to a Senate ruling the language will be stripped out of the final version.

The American Rescue Plan would pay for vaccines and medical supplies and send a new round of emergency financial aid to households, small businesses and state and local governments.

Democrats said the package was needed to fight a pandemic that has killed more than 500,000 Americans and thrown millions out of work.

The House vote amounted to a successful first test for Democrats, who hold a narrow 221-211 majority in the chamber. Progressives and moderates in the party who are often at odds will face tougher battles ahead on immigration and climate change initiatives that Biden wants to push.

The president has focussed his first weeks in office on tackling the greatest US public health crisis in a century, which has upended most aspects of American life.

Democrats aim to get the bill to him to sign into law before mid-March, when enhanced unemployment benefits and some other types of aid are due to expire.

The bill’s big-ticket items include $1,400 direct payments to individuals, a $400-per-week federal unemployment benefit through August 29, and help for those in difficulty paying rents and home mortgages during the pandemic.

The action now moves to the Senate, where Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris may have to cast a tie-breaking vote in a chamber where Republicans control 50 seats and Democrats and their allies control the other 50.

(with inputs from agencies)

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