Progressives Hail Biden Stimulus Bill Wins, Despite Compromises

Progressive lawmakers are praising their priorities included in the American Rescue Plan, which successfully made it through the Senate, despite some compromises and the removal of an increase to the federal minimum wage.

The final Senate version of the massive $1.9 trillion bill, which passed in the upper chamber of Congress on Saturday, made some notable modifications to the House version approved in late February. These tweaks—which included removing the Raise the Wage Act to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, limiting the number of Americans eligible to receive $1,400 stimulus checks and lower federal unemployment payments ($300 per week instead of $400)—frustrated progressives and drew significant criticism.

Now that the final version of the bill is expected to pass in the House on Wednesday, with polling showing wide bipartisan support among voters, progressive leaders are praising the overall package.

"That's right. We're putting money directly into people's pockets—not in the pockets of billionaires and massive corporations," Representative Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), tweeted on Tuesday. The Washington Democrat retweeted an article by CNBC that reported on a study assessing that the COVID-19 relief package "gives [a] bigger boost to lower-income Americans than Trump [2017] tax cuts."

That’s right. We’re putting money directly into people’s pockets—not in the pockets of billionaires and massive corporations. https://t.co/aXRV9WfYOx

— Pramila Jayapal (@PramilaJayapal) March 9, 2021

In a Saturday statement after passage in the Senate, Jayapal described the bill as "a truly progressive and bold package that delivers on its promise to put money directly in people's pockets and decisively crush the coronavirus's spread, which is responsible for our economic crisis." The congresswoman said that the bill "meets the scale of this unprecedented crisis."

Senator Bernie Sanders, a progressive independent from Vermont, compared Biden's rescue plan to the massive relief bill passed under former President Donald Trump when Republicans controlled the Senate back in March of last year.

"Under GOP control, Congress passed $1.9 trillion in tax cuts mainly for billionaires & corporations. Now, after one of the highest voter turnouts in history, we passed $1.9 trillion to help working families who are struggling," Sanders said in a Tuesday tweet. "Do not let anyone tell you your vote doesn't matter."

Under GOP control, Congress passed $1.9 trillion in tax cuts mainly for billionaires & corporations.
Now, after one of the highest voter turnouts in history, we passed $1.9 trillion to help working families who are struggling.
Do not let anyone tell you your vote doesn't matter.

— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) March 9, 2021

Representative Ro Khanna, a California Democrat and deputy whip of the CPC, highlighted the significant expansion of the child tax credit included in the bill.

"With the #AmericanRescuePlan's expanded child tax credit, we can lift millions of families out of poverty, cut child poverty in half, and help parents pay for childcare. This is worth celebrating," Khanna wrote in a Twitter post.

The new policy would provide parents with $300 per month for young children and $250 per month for those over the age of five. An analysis has projected this will cut childhood poverty by about 45 percent.

With the #AmericanRescuePlan’s expanded child tax credit, we can lift millions of families out of poverty, cut child poverty in half, and help parents pay for childcare. This is worth celebrating. https://t.co/2voUnKhCtc

— Ro Khanna (@RoKhanna) March 9, 2021

Khanna previously led an effort to urge President Joe Biden and Democratic senators to disregard the ruling of the Senate's parliamentarian, which prevented the inclusion of the Raise the Wage Act in the final bill. The parliamentarian concluded that the hike to the federal minimum wage did not fit with the complicated requirements of the budget reconciliation process, which Democrats turned to when it became clear that they would not receive Republican support for the package. The budget reconciliation process allows the Senate to pass legislation with a slim majority instead of the 60 votes generally required by the legislative filibuster rule.

"This ruling is a bridge too far," Khanna said in a statement last week, joined by 22 fellow progressive lawmakers. "[Progressives have] been asked, politely but firmly, to compromise on nearly all of our principles and goals. Not this time." Some activists had urged progressives in Congress to leverage their power to hold up the bill unless the minimum wage increase and other priorities were included.

"The very cool thing is that if about 6 House Dems simply say they won't vote for the COVID relief bill if it doesn't include a minimum wage increase, Dems would have to add a minimum wage increase into the final bill," David Sirota, a former senior adviser and speechwriter for Sanders' 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on Saturday.

"Working people want to see the Squad stand up to the establishment. Progressive leaders and leaders of major labor unions need to harness that desire and publicly urge that the Squad use their numerical balance & refuse to vote on the MUST PASS stimulus bill unless $15 is in it," Kshama Sawant, a prominent socialist Seattle City Council member, tweeted. The Squad is a nickname given to a group of prominent progressive lawmakers in the House.

Bernie Sanders and Ro Khanna
Representative Ro Khanna and Senator Bernie Sanders hold a press conference on Capitol Hill on April 4, 2019. SAUL LOEB/AFP/GETTY

It currently appears unlikely that progressives will hold up passage of the package, as leading progressives are now hailing the final version of the bill while continuing to push for the minimum wage increase and criticizing the limitation of the stimulus checks. The House is expected to approve the bill on Wednesday.

Polls have shown widespread support for the $1.9 trillion relief plan. A poll conducted in late February by Morning Consult and Politico showed that more than two-thirds (76 percent) of Americans approved of the package. That included 60 percent of Republicans, 71 percent of independents and 89 percent of Democrats. Another poll, published in early March by Monmouth University, showed that 62 percent of Americans supported the bill.

Newsweek reached out to several progressive lawmakers for further comment but did not immediately receive responses.