The newly passed 1.9-trillion-U.S.-dollar relief package is about to go into effect, with some Americans expected to get the direct payments as soon as this weekend.
The measure, the first legislative victory for President Joe Biden, came after weeks of partisan fighting in the Congress, a process that marked the opposite of what Biden called for in his inaugural address: unity.
NOT A SINGLE REPUBLICAN VOTE
In his remarks on Friday afternoon, Biden said the bill was supported "overwhelmingly" by the American people -- Democrats, independents, and Republicans -- and gained strong support of governors and mayors across the country in both parties.
"Over 430 mayors contacted me, many of them Republicans, supporting the bill," the U.S. president said in a White House ceremony celebrating the passage of the relief package earlier this week.
The bill, however, did not receive a single Republican vote in the Congress. The House of Representatives approved the measure in a starkly partisan vote of 220-211 on Wednesday. Last week, the evenly split Senate narrowly passed the bill by a vote of 50 to 49.
During the debates on Capitol Hill, Republicans strongly opposed the bill, calling it a Democratic wish list, arguing that the plan includes provisions that they see as unrelated to the crisis, and that the high price tag could result in unsustainable debt for future generations.
"So let's be clear. This isn't a rescue bill. It isn't a relief bill. It's a laundry list of left-wing priorities that predate the pandemic and do not meet the needs of American families," said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, in a tweet, lashed out at Democrats, accusing them of exploiting the crisis by "jamming through unrelated liberal policies they couldn't pass honestly."
The Democrats, meanwhile, highlighted the urgency to rein in the pandemic and bolster the virus-ravaged economy.
"With President Biden's actions and the delivery of the life-saving resources of the #AmericanRescuePlan, we will crush the virus, save jobs & grow the economy, and Build Back Better For The People," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Twitter.
"The United States in the Congress is more polarized than the American people," Jeffrey Sachs, an economics professor at Columbia University and senior United Nations advisor, told Xinhua.
"The American people have actually a broad consensus. Let's get on with our lives. Let's have the control of the pandemic. Let's have an increased role of government, but the political divide between the Democrats and Republicans is very strong," Sachs said.
The measure, the sixth coronavirus-related legislation since the outbreak more than a year ago, includes funding for COVID-19 vaccination and testing, extra 300 dollars in unemployment benefits, 1,400-dollar direct payments to working Americans, and support for small businesses, state and local governments, along with schools.
UNITY A "TALKING POINT"?
Most legislation requires 60 votes in the Senate to advance, but the Democrats in early February moved to pass a procedural step in both chambers, known as budget reconciliation, allowing them to push through the big relief bill with only a simple majority in the Senate.
With the Senate evenly split, the process gives the vice president the opportunity to cast her vote to break a tie, which means the Democrats could pass the bill without Republican support.
The Republicans criticized the Democrats' use of the budget reconciliation process, calling it a "partisan" move.
"President Biden's call for unity was a simple talking point and instead of working with House GOP and Senate GOP. (The) Democrats are pushing forward a partisan agenda that doesn't represent all Americans," Michael Burgess, a Republican congressman from Texas, said earlier.
Biden, however, said what the Republicans proposed is "either to do nothing or not enough."
"If I have to choose between getting help right now to Americans who are hurting so badly, and being bogged down in a monthly negotiation or compromising on a bill that's up to the crisis, it's an easy choice," said the U.S. president.
Greg Cusack, a former member of the Iowa House of Representatives, told Xinhua that the process Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer decided to use in the Senate was a "clumsy" one. But it was the only way that this legislation could pass, given the "truly puzzling" resistance of all Republicans.
The former state legislator added that Biden learned from his experience with Obama and McConnell during the Obama administration that the Republicans were apparently never going to allow a Democratic president to get credit for substantial legislation ever again.
The budget reconciliation process has also drawn criticism from G. William Hoagland, senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington-based think tank, who is also a member of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a watchdog group.
"No one denies the need to assist families and businesses that have and continue to suffer from the economic fallout of the pandemic. But the current Democratic reconciliation bill and the 2017 Republican tax reconciliation measure have paid scant attention to the country's mounting debt load," Hoagland said in a statement in late February.
According to the estimation by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, the passage of the 1.9-trillion relief package alone, excluding any dynamic effect, would boost debt to 37.4 trillion dollars by 2031, or 114 percent of Gross Domestic Product.