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Biden calls for passage of $1.9T stimulus; House OKs procedural step

President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting to discuss a coronavirus relief package in the Oval Office on Friday. Biden will speak on the economy Friday morning. Photo by Stefani Reynolds/UPI
President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting to discuss a coronavirus relief package in the Oval Office on Friday. Biden will speak on the economy Friday morning. Photo by Stefani Reynolds/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 5 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden touted his American Rescue Plan in a speech Friday afternoon, saying that he won't compromise on $1,400 checks as the House voted to approve a procedural step to pass his $1.9 trillion relief bill.

Biden, who made his comments just hours after the Senate passed a budget resolution after an all-night session, said the bill's No. 1 priority will be for getting the infrastructure in place to get people to vaccinate with available coronavirus drugs.

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"There is nothing more important than getting the resources we need to vaccinate people in this country as soon and as quickly as possible," said Biden, noting that the federal government will be active is setting up vaccination sites and helping state governments. "Job No. 1 of the American Rescue Plan is vaccines."

Biden said the direct payments to U.S. residents will remain at $1,400, but agreed the amount should be targeted. He used people making $300,000 as an example of those who should not receive checks but was not specific about an exact cutoff.

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"I believe a lot of people are losing hope," Biden said. "I believe a lot of people are looking to their government for help, to do our jobs and not let them down. So I'm going to act and act fast. I would like to do it with the support of Republicans, but they're not willing to go as far as I think we have to go."

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He reiterated that the $618 billion plan offered by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and nine other Republicans would not be enough to take care of all the challenges the country faces.

Biden said the plan will include funds for facing hunger, extend pandemic unemployment insurance through September, provide cash for small businesses, help individuals pay for health insurance and offer rental assistance.

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He said his plan will also help schools open safely, help with childcare and allow hurting state and local governments to keep employees. He also voiced support for an increase in the minimum wage, something that was taken out of the Senate budget resolution Friday but is still on the table in the House.

"It's big and it's bold. It's a real answer to the crisis that we're in," Biden said. "I want to say it very clearly, it's better economics. It not only addresses the immediate crisis that we're in, it's better for the long-term economic health of this nation."

The president tried to drum up support for his massive legislation while holding a slim majority in the House and the evenly divided chamber in the Senate.

The House voted Friday afternoon along party lines -- 219-209 -- to pass a budget blueprint instructing committees to begin drafting its own relief legislation. The procedural step is the first toward a reconciliation process which allows House Democrats to bypass needing at least 10 Republicans to vote to advance the legislation.

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Vice President Kamala Harris and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will conduct a virtual roundtable Friday afternoon to address Biden's American Rescue Plan.

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