President Joe Biden signed the first major legislative achievement of his young presidency Thursday afternoon, moving to get a $1.86 trillion COVID-19 aid package into law as quickly as possible.
“In the weeks that this bill has been discussed and debated, it’s clear that an overwhelming percentage of the American people: Democrats, independents, Republican friends, have made it clear, the people out there have made it clear they strongly support the American Rescue Plan,” Biden said in the Oval Office.
The president said he would be hitting the road in support of the plan as implementation gets underway, saying the legislation is fundamentally is “about rebuilding the backbone of this country.”
The signing came ahead of the president’s first formal prime-time address to the nation, set for Thursday evening, and on the one-year anniversary of the World Health Organization’s declaration that COVID -19 was a pandemic.
The measure signed Thursday will infuse a host of economic relief measures into the economy, from direct payments of up to $1,400 to millions of households and a further extension of $300 unemployment insurance supplements into September. Biden’s signature brings the total price tag of the deficit spending on pandemic-related measures enacted since last March to about $5.4 trillion.
There are also billions of dollars to bolster pandemic response and help Americans who have been laid off during the pandemic pay for continuing health insurance. The bill cleared the House 220-211 on Wednesday after passing the Senate with a 50-49 vote on Saturday.
No Republicans voted for the budget reconciliation bill in either chamber, and it emerged with almost all of the top lines of the president’s original proposals intact, with the exception of the plan to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.
The landmark legislation is just the second measure signed into law by Biden, with the first having been the January waiver that has allowed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to serve as the top civilian at the Pentagon despite recent military service.
White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain said the formal signing was moved up a day because all the necessary paperwork had arrived and there was no reason to wait for a ceremony.
“We will hold our celebration of the signing on Friday, as planned, with Congressional leaders!” Klain tweeted after the White House announced an updated schedule for Thursday.
Biden’s prime-time address Thursday is expected to be short of 20 minutes in length, and according to a White House official the president plans to recognize the more than half-a-million Americans who have lost their lives to COVID-19, as well as the sacrifices made by people around the country over the last year.
In addition to outlining the administration’s next steps on pandemic response, the White House said Biden plans to “level with the American people about what is still required to defeat the virus,” as well as highlight the opportunities for what could come next if and when COVID-19 is defeated.