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President Biden’s sweeping stimulus package on the cusp of becoming law

House Democrats are waiting to give final approval to the $1.9 trillion COVID relief package that was backed along party lines Saturday in the Senate. They are pressing to get the bill to President Biden to sign before federal unemployment benefits expire on March 14. Lisa Desjardins and Yamiche Alcindor join Judy Woodruff to discuss some of the details.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    On the economic front, President Biden's sweeping COVID stimulus package is on the cusp of becoming law this week.

    Congressional correspondent Lisa Desjardins has the latest.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The House is back in Washington, with Democrats standing by to give final approval to the $1.9 trillion COVID relief package.

    White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on the bill, which is largely what President Biden proposed.

  • Jen Psaki:

    The plan that the Senate passed this weekend puts us one huge step closer to passing one of the most consequential and most progressive pieces of legislation in American history.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Senate passage came this weekend, after some high drama and high-stakes bargaining. West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin raised concerns about the size of unemployment benefits, but got on board after a compromise idea and a phone call with Mr. Biden.

    To pass the bill, Democrats used a budget process requiring just 50 votes, but, as they have exactly 50 votes, they needed the support of every senator in their party.

    After more than 24 hours of debate and votes on dozens of amendments, the Senate finally passed the so-called American Rescue Plan Saturday in a party-line vote. It included a new round of direct payments of up to $1,400 for individual Americans making under $75,000, and an increase to the child tax credit for one year.

    It will also extend $300 weekly unemployment benefits through September 6. That is shorter and lower than the $400 House Democrats wanted to go through to the end of September.

    In addition, the legislation boosts funding for COVID vaccine distribution and testing and funds $125 billion to help K-12 schools reopen safely. Another $350 billion will go to state and local governments, targeted to their pandemic losses.

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer:

    This is a great day for the country.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer hailed the outcome on Saturday.

  • Chuck Schumer:

    We made a promise to the American people that we were going to deliver the real relief they needed. And now we have fulfilled that promise.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    But Minority Leader Mitch McConnell faulted Democrats for passing an historic bill on purely partisan lines.

  • Sen. Mitch McConnell:

    Voters picked a president who promised unity and bipartisanship. Democrats' response is to ram through what they call — quote — "the most progressive domestic legislation in a generation" on a razor-thin majority in both houses.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Republicans question the need for such a large bill and argue it could backfire with a spike in inflation.

    But Treasury secretary Janet Yellen told the "NewsHour" she's optimistic.

  • Sec. Janet Yellen:

    The Fed does have tools to address inflation if it becomes a problem. But I don't believe — I don't believe it will. And I don't see markets or most forecasters worrying about that.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The bill was not perfect for every Democrat. Progressives remain frustrated that the Senate dropped provisions to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Ultimately, though, Democrats want the bill sent to President Biden and signed by March 14, when current federal unemployment benefits are set to expire.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And for more on this bill, I'm joined by both Lisa and our White House correspondent, Yamiche Alcindor.

    So, hello to both of you.

    I'm going to start with you, Yamiche.

    What is the — what more can you tell us about what the White House is saying about this bill as the House takes it up? And what more have we learned about the impact of this legislation, if it becomes law, as it now is written?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, the White House and President Biden are really touting this $1.9 trillion relief package making its way through Congress as a huge victory.

    They say that this is really President Biden keeping his campaign promise to get urgent need directly to American people, as this pandemic continues.

    On that note, on Thursday, President Biden is going to be delivering his first prime-time national address. He's going to be marking the one year anniversary of lockdowns related to COVID starting in the United States. He's going to be talking about what he plans to do for Americans and also talking about the sacrifices that they made.

    On that note, though, he's — as he waits for this bill to hit his desk and sign it into law, he is wasting no time in explaining it in detail. Officials tell me that part of explaining it to American people — to the American people is going to be him talking specifically about the racial justice aspects of this bill that connect to his overall goal to having more equity in this country.

    And on that note, I want to explain a bit about the racial justice issues in this bill. There's more than $8 billion to federal, local public health agencies for vaccinations, including targeting underserved communities, more than $7 billion to community health centers which provide health care to underserved areas, and disproportionately serve black, Latino, and other communities.

    And this bill also has the single largest infusion of dedicated resources to Native communities in us history; $26 billion of that money is going to go toward combating COVID-19 in those areas, the Indian Health Service, which provides direct services to members of tribes and tribal community safety net programs.

    And that's important, because, as we know, Native Americans, Black Americans, Latino Americans, and Americans of color have been disproportionately impacted by this pandemic.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Lisa, there is still more in this legislation that targets racial inequity. Tell us about that.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

    Beyond those COVID and health care-related items that Yamiche laid out so well, there are some other items that Democrats put in here to address systemic racism.

    Let's look at those. There is in this bill a provision for what's called socially disadvantaged farmers. Those are farmers of color. They would — this bill would pay off 120 percent of any federal loans or federally backed loans that those farmers have. Democrats say that is because of years of inequity. And they point out 80 percent loss, for example, of farmland by Black farmers in the last 100 years.

    Also in this bill, as Yamiche, so much for the Native American community. Total it all up, $31 billion of federal funding in different programs for Native Americans. Again, that is the largest infusion of cash ever in American history for Native Americans in this country.

    And then, finally, also, I want to point out one thing, one item in that $31 billion, $20 million a small slice, but an important slice to Native communities. That $20 million is to help try and roll back the loss and sustain Native languages in this country, which many communities fear they are losing at a rapid rate.

    Now, Republicans say that these items, however good they may be, should not go in this bill, because they're not directly COVID-related. Democrats say these are all good for the health of the country overall.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Lisa, you were telling us a number of health-related items in the legislation even separate from COVID. Tell us about that.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    More big news on this front.

    Let's go through these quickly, first, Medicaid. This bill would have more incentive for the states that have not expanded their Medicaid program under Obamacare to do it. Essentially, the federal government would pay more, pay more of the Medicaid bill. Mental health, this would double state block grants for mental health up to $1 billion. In health insurance, it would pay 100 percent of premiums for people who are unemployed. That's temporary through the end of September.

    And, also, this would just expand to subsidies overall under Obamacare, again, temporary, but that's something that Democrats say is critical at this moment.

    Let me sneak in one more big item that I hope we will get talked about more in future days, pensions. This bill has an $86 billion provision in it that would basically bail out some potentially insolvent, soon-to-be insolvent pension funds. That affects millions of workers who were standing to lose those.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, finally, Yamiche, one other major beneficiary in all of this are schools.

    And that's outside of the money that's going to reopen the schools. Tell us about what's here for colleges.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    That's right.

    President Biden has been really focused on trying to get schools reopened, as well as giving resources to students, both students in higher ed, as well as K-12, to help them go through this pandemic.

    So I want to walk through some of the things that schools get. There's more — there's nearly $40 billion for higher education. This includes public and private colleges and historically Black colleges and universities, who are actually going to be receiving an extra $3 billion in supplemental rewards.

    Then there's more than $7 billion to provide Internet connectivity and devices to students so they can participate in learning online. That's been a big issue with the digital gap in some underserved communities, and then more than one billion for summer enrichment programs for students learning during those coming months, where we're going to have to continue to weather this pandemic, while people are still getting vaccinated.

    So, this is really money focused on students, focused on their parents, focused on educators. This is really, President Biden says, aimed at really trying to get education rolling in this country and trying to make sure that people don't fall through the gaps as we continue to weather this pandemic.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So much in this piece of legislation and so important for the public to understand as much as possible about what's here.

    Yamiche Alcindor, Lisa Desjardins, thank you both.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Thanks.

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