Biden’s $1.9tn Covid relief package approved by Congress

Big win for administration as US president announces additional 100m J&J vaccines

US president Joe Biden has announced that his administration will purchase an additional 100 million Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses, saying that any surplus vaccines will be shared with the rest of the world. Video: Reuters

 

The US House of Representatives has passed President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid relief package – one of the largest federal stimulus packages in US history and a major legislative win for his administration.

Mr Biden will sign the American Rescue Plan into law on Friday, paving the way for a major injection of cash into the US economy, including $1,400 cheques for millions of Americans, enhanced child tax credits and money for schools, businesses and unemployed workers.

Only one Democrat – Jared Golden of Maine – voted against the package, which was passed with no Republican votes in an indication of GOP opposition to the size and scope of the rescue package.

Mr Biden hailed the relief package as a “historic, historic victory for the American people”.

“Everything in the American Rescue Plan addresses a real need,” he added.

The president will make a prime-time address to the nation on Thursday night to mark one year since the country entered shutdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

He is also expected to hold events around the country in the coming weeks to sell the $1.9 trillion package to the American people, and outline how people can access the financial help offered by the package.

J&J vaccines

Later on Wednesday, Mr Biden announced that the US is to secure 100 million extra Johnson & Johnson vaccines later this year as he reiterated his promise to have enough Covid-19 vaccines for every American adult by the end of May.

Speaking as he hosted the chief executives of Johnson & Johnson and Merck at the White House, Mr Biden said he had secured the extra doses “because in this war-time effort we need maximum flexibility”.

“There’s always a chance that we’ll encounter unexpected challenges, or there’ll be a new need for a vaccine effort. A lot can happen, a lot can change, and we need to be prepared.”

Asked if the US was prepared to donate vaccines to other parts of the world, he said that if it had a surplus “we’re going to share it with the rest of the world”, noting his administration’s commitment of $4 billion to the WHO Covax initiative aimed at developing countries.

“We’re not going to be ultimately safe until the world is safe,” he said. “We’re going to start off making sure Americans are taken care of first, but we’re then going to try to help the rest of the world.”

Mr Biden praised Merck and Johnson & Johnson for their historic agreement to partner on Covid vaccine production.  

Commending the companies for putting “patriotism and public health first”, he recalled previous collaborations between auto and aircraft companies during the second World War. “Today we’re seeing the same type of collaboration when it comes to getting this virus under control.”

Hope and healing

Noting that America had administered a daily high of 2.9 million vaccines last Saturday, he said 60 per cent of over-65s had received at least one vaccine dose.  “The vaccines bring hope and healing in so many ways,” he said, noting that nurses could now safely go to hospital and children could hug vaccinated grandparents.

“Vaccinating Americans is the only way to beat the pandemic, get our economy back on track, and for us to get back our lives and our loved ones.”

Separately on Wednesday, the Senate confirmed Merrick Garland as the next attorney general in a 70-30 vote.

Mr Garland will take the helm at the justice department more than four years after his nomination as a supreme court justice was blocked by the Republican-controlled Senate in the final year of the Obama presidency.

He is due to be officially sworn-in as attorney general on Thursday by vice-president Kamala Harris.

Maria Fudge was on Wednesday sworn in as the new secretary of housing and urban development, making her the first black woman to lead the agency in more than four decades.