RICHMOND, Va. -- Congress approved a nearly $2 trillion pandemic-relief package Wednesday that will extend unemployment benefits until September, deliver $1400 stimulus checks to many Americans, expand a child tax credit and provide billions of dollars to distribute coronavirus vaccines and provide relief for schools, states and small businesses struggling during the pandemic.
But it passed without a single Republican vote, and is now on its way to President Joe Biden’s desk because of the narrow margins Democrats hold in both the U.S. House and Senate.
Virginia Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger, a second-term Democrat in the 7th District, said that outcome was not for a want of trying to win over colleagues across the aisle.
“The President has listened to opinions on both sides of the aisle in the House, and at least in our first vote we didn't have Republican support,” said Spanberger. “Certainly we saw the same in the Senate. Notably, this bill is about meeting the urgency of the moment to continue the momentum moving forward.”
Spanberger points to widespread support for the bill, which polls show 70% of Americans back. “There has been bipartisan support in terms of the within communities across the country,” she said. “People are recognizing the need for greater support for vaccinations and so this is about continuing the momentum.”
Spanberger said investing in vaccine distribution, in testing, in helping the unemployed and in programs like the E-rate program provides discounted internet and phone service to rural schools is crucial right now.
Going forward, Spanberger said she is working to with a group of Republicans and Democrats on big priority issues for Democrats such as policing reform and labor protections.
“We're a bipartisan group of 28 Democrats and Republicans who are focused on building up areas of common ground and common goals,” she said. “The House could pass a [police reform] bill that we know is not going to move in the Senate, given the 60-vote threshold to vote for passage. So I've been part of a bipartisan working group to really break down that discussion and say, ‘what are some justice-related reforms that we can make, that will garner bipartisan, bicameral support?’”
She said gun safety is another issue that could translate into a bipartisan bill.
“If you go to purchase a firearm at a federally-licensed point of sale such as Walmart, you fill out a simple piece of paper and purchase a firearm from a place that is federally licensed,” Spanberger said. “But it doesn’t apply to gun shows or internet sales. There's a patchwork of laws state to state. So the goal of HR-8 is to apply that same standard across the board. This is an issue that has bipartisan support across the country. It has bipartisan support within the House of Representatives. And my hope is that as we have a reasonable conversation about ensuring that people with a history of violence or who are on the terrorist watch list are not able to essentially skirt that law by making a purchase someplace else.”
When we reached out to Republican Rep. Rob Wittman, who represents Virginia’s 1st District, a spokesperson said he declined to be interviewed at this time.