As was the case with the entire U.S. House, Georgia’s congressional delegation voted along party lines Wednesday on President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package.
The Democrat-controlled House passed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 by a vote of 220-211, with all but one Democrat supporting it and all of the Republicans voting “no.” Georgia’s six Democrats voted in favor of the legislation, and the eight Republicans opposed it.
The plan includes $1,400 economic stimulus checks for Americans earning up to $75,000 a year and couples earning up to $150,000 annually, an extension of $300-per-week in unemployment benefits, aid to state and local governments, funds to help schools reopen safely and an expanded federal child tax credit.
It also provides new funding for small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program and additional funding to administer COVID-19 vaccines and expand testing and contact tracing.
“This bill is about saving lives and livelihoods,” said Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux, D-Suwanee.
“After a year of grief and pain in America, a year that caused economic hardship for hardworking families across America … this bill helps us move past this year of pain and struggle,” added Rep. Lucy McBath, R-Roswell.
But Georgia’s congressional Republicans called the legislation a hugely expensive overreach by Democrats that goes far beyond what is needed to address the public health and economic impacts of the pandemic.
“You can’t call it a COVID-19 relief bill when 91% of the $1.9 trillion goes toward unrelated Democrat priorities,” said Rep. Rick Allen, R-Augusta.
“It’s nothing but a liberal wish list parading as pandemic relief,” added Rep. Drew Ferguson, R-West Point. “This package is wrong for America, and it’s wrong for the state of Georgia.”
Georgia House Speaker David Ralston objected to a provision in the measure that prohibits state and local governments from using any of the relief funds to offset tax cuts. Legislation the state House of Representatives passed last week and sent to the Georgia Senate would reduce taxes by $140 million a year by raising the standard deduction for state income taxpayers.
“In Georgia, we have prioritized providing tax relief to our citizens, and [the American Rescue Plan] appears to prohibit that relief,” Ralston wrote in a letter to Biden dated March 10. “I pray that you will prevail upon Congress to have this flaw in the legislation corrected before signing it into law.”
Of the $350 billion the bill earmarks for state and local governments, $8.1 billion is headed to Georgia. Of that, $4.6 billion will go to the state, with the rest earmarked for local governments.
Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., who voted for the legislation when the Senate passed it last weekend, said the relief will go to those who need it most.
“Zero percent of the tax credits and stimulus checks go to the top 1%,” he said. “This is getting help directly to working class and middle class people.”
Dave Williams writes for Capitol Beat News Service