Hundreds of dollars in direct payments may start going to American households as soon as next week after Congress overwhelmingly passed a $900 billion stimulus package sending billions of dollars to individuals and businesses grappling with the economic and health toll of the coronavirus pandemic.
The long-sought relief package was part of a $2.3 trillion catchall package that included $1.4 trillion to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. It included the extension of routine tax provisions, a tax deduction for corporate meals, the establishment of two Smithsonian museums, a ban on surprise medical bills and a restoration of Pell grants for incarcerated students, among hundreds of other measures.
Though the $900 billion stimulus package is half the size of the $2.2 trillion stimulus law passed in March that provided the core of its legislative provisions, it remains one of the largest relief packages in modern American history. It will revive a supplemental unemployment benefit for millions of unemployed Americans at $300 a week for 11 weeks and provide for another round of $600 direct payments to adults and children.
“I expect we’ll get the money out by the beginning of next week — $2,400 for a family of four — so much needed relief just in time for the holidays,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on CNBC. “I think this will take us through the recovery.”
President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., who received a coronavirus vaccine on Monday with television cameras rolling, has insisted that this bill is only the beginning, and that more relief, especially to state and local governments, will be coming after his inauguration next month.
Lawmakers hustled on Monday to pass the bill, nearly 5,600 pages long, less than 24 hours after its completion and before virtually anyone had read it. At one point, aides struggled simply to put the measure online because of a corrupted computer file.
The legislative text is likely to be one of the longest ever, and it became available only a few hours before both chambers approved the bill. In the Senate, the bill passed 92 to 6. It will now go to President Trump for his signature.
President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. is expected to nominate Miguel A. Cardona, Connecticut’s education commissioner, to serve as his education secretary, tapping a Latino to be the nation’s highest education policymaker, according to two officials familiar with his plans.
Dr. Cardona, if confirmed by the Senate, would be tasked with bringing the elementary, secondary and higher education systems back from the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic and repairing the considerable damage done. School districts, colleges and universities have hemorrhaged money as they struggled with distance learning, retrofitted buildings to make them somewhat safer, and lost students, especially foreign university students who had been paying full tuition.
The pandemic has also widened the achievement gap between affluent students and poorer pupils who fell behind as they suffered through deficient internet access and difficult home-learning conditions.
The selection of Dr. Cardona would fulfill Mr. Biden’s campaign promise to appoint a diverse cabinet and a secretary of education with public school experience — a blunt juxtaposition to President Trump’s billionaire private-school champion Betsy DeVos. The official announcement is expected as soon as Tuesday. Dr. Cardona had not been offered the job as of Tuesday morning, according to a person familiar with the discussions.
Dr. Cardona was appointed Connecticut’s first Latino commissioner of education in 2019 after two decades of experience as a public school educator, starting in a Meriden, Conn., elementary school classroom, according to his official biography. He also served as a principal for a decade, among the youngest in the state, and as assistant superintendent and adjunct professor at the University of Connecticut.
Dr. Cardona emerged as a front-runner for the position in recent days, beating out teachers union leaders, higher education academics, and superintendents of large, urban school districts. He garnered the endorsements of important stakeholders in the Biden campaign, including congressional leaders, teachers unions, community groups and one of Mr. Biden’s early preferred candidates, Linda Darling-Hammond, who headed the campaign’s education transition team but took herself out of the running.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, was vaccinated on Tuesday during a live broadcast of what the National Institutes of Health called a kickoff event showcasing Moderna’s vaccine, which was developed by scientists at the agency and received emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration on Friday.
Rolling up the sleeve of a blue dress shirt, Dr. Fauci called his public vaccination “a symbol to the rest of the country that I feel extreme confidence in the safety and the efficacy of this vaccine.”
“I want to encourage everyone who has the opportunity to get vaccinated so that we can have a veil of protection over this country that would end this pandemic,” he said.
Joining Dr. Fauci in an auditorium at N.I.H. to receive vaccinations were Dr. Francis S. Collins, the agency’s director, Alex M. Azar II, the health and human services secretary, and frontline workers at the N.I.H. Clinical Center. They will receive the second dose of the Moderna vaccine in 28 days.
The Moderna vaccine, which has received billions of dollars of support from the federal government, has become a triumphant symbol of the administration’s efforts to develop and distribute a vaccine. It was designed by scientists at N.I.H. and the company within two days of China’s releasing the genetic sequence of the coronavirus.
“What we’re seeing now is the culmination of years of research, which have led to a phenomenon that has truly been unprecedented,” Dr. Fauci said at the Tuesday event. “And that is to go from the realization that we’re dealing with a new pathogen, a virus that was described in January of this year, to less than one year later to have vaccines that are going into the arms of so many people, including myself.”
Dr. Fauci’s vaccination was long awaited by public figures and health experts. Former President Barack Obama recently said that if Dr. Fauci, who will also be the chief medical adviser to President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. once he takes office, endorses a coronavirus vaccine, that would be a signal to him that it is safe.
On Monday, Mr. Biden received a coronavirus vaccine on live television at the Christiana Hospital in Newark, Del., to send a message to Americans across the country that the vaccine was safe to take.
“Left’s good,” he told the nurse practitioner who administered the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine, rolling up the sleeve of his black long-sleeve turtleneck and exposing his left arm. “You just go ahead anytime you’re ready.”
He credited the Trump administration for its work on Operation Warp Speed, which helped to deliver a quick vaccine.
“The administration deserves some credit getting this off the ground,” he said. “I’m doing this to demonstrate that people should be prepared when it’s available to take the vaccine.”
Mr. Biden, however, warned Americans that vigilance in the coming months was still necessary.
“It’s going to take time,” he said, encouraging people to continue to wear masks and socially distance. “If you don’t have to travel, don’t travel,” he said. “It’s really important.”
Since March, Mr. Biden’s team has been taking public health guidelines about social distancing and masks seriously, as President Trump and his aides have willfully disregarded them. But even Mr. Biden’s more careful circle has been infiltrated by the virus. Representative Cedric L. Richmond, Democrat of Louisiana and one of Mr. Biden’s closest advisers, tested positive for the coronavirus last week, the transition team announced.
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is expected to receive her vaccine after Christmas, a spokeswoman said, following advice from doctors who recommended Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris stagger their first shots rather than receive them together.
The overdue pandemic aid package represents both a pre-inaugural legislative victory for President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. and a potential template for congressional deal-making in the coming Biden era.
Along with struggling Americans and businesses, the incoming president was a major beneficiary of the $900 billion pandemic stimulus measure that passed on Monday night, which will give him some breathing room when he enters the White House next month. Rather than face an immediate and dire need to act on an emergency economic aid package, Mr. Biden and his team can take a moment to instead try to fashion a more far-reaching recovery program and begin to tackle other issues.
“President-elect Biden is going to have an economy that is healthier,” said Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia and one of the chief players in a breakaway effort by centrists in the Senate and House that led to the compromise.
Given the slender partisan divides that will exist in both the Senate and House next year, the approach could provide a road map for the Biden administration if it hopes to break through congressional paralysis, especially in the Senate, and pass additional legislation. Mr. Biden has said another economic relief plan will be an early priority.
“I believe it is going to be the only way we are going to accomplish the president-elect’s agenda in the next two years,” said Representative Josh Gottheimer, Democrat of New Jersey and a leader of the 50-member bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus that took part in forging the compromise. “In the long run, this is the way to govern.”
Mr. Biden on Sunday applauded the willingness of lawmakers to “reach across the aisle” and called the effort a “model for the challenging work ahead for our nation.” He was also not an idle bystander in the negotiations.
Mr. Biden’s move was not without risks. If it had failed to impact the discussions, the president-elect risked looking powerless to move Congress, even before he had taken the oath of office. But members of both parties said his intervention was constructive and gave Democrats confidence in lowering their demands.
Tucked into Congress’s voluminous stimulus package are significant changes to higher-education law, including a resumption of federal financial aid to prison inmates that was banned in the 1994 crime bill championed by then-Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr.
The restoration of Pell grants for prisoners is something of a watershed moment for the criminal justice overhaul movement, which is seeking to unwind decades of punitive practices in favor of finding avenues to reintegrate incarcerated people into society.
The measure was part of a bipartisan deal struck by House and Senate education leaders to address affordability and equity in higher education, then it was attached to the $900 billion stimulus bill making its way to President Trump’s desk. The package also includes the simplification of the federal financial aid application process, a significant expansion of students eligible for federal aid, and the forgiveness of more than $1 billion in federal loans held by historically Black colleges and universities.
For two years, efforts to rewrite the Higher Education Act have stalled repeatedly as leaders wrestled with polarizing issues, like college affordability and campus sexual assault. But with Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee and the chairman of the Senate Education Committee, leaving Congress this year and looking for a legacy accomplishment, Democrats seized the opportunity to secure long-sought policy wins that address some of the racial and financial inequities highlighted by the unrest of the past year.
In the waning days of the 116th Congress, lawmakers have authorized $35 billion in spending on wind, solar and other clean power sources while curtailing the use of a potent planet-warming chemical used in air-conditioners and refrigerators.
Both measures, backed by some of the Senate’s most powerful Republicans, were attached to the huge government spending and coronavirus relief package that passed Monday night and was expected to be signed by President Trump in the coming days, effectively creating the first significant climate change law since at least 2009.
They amount to a rare party rebuke to Mr. Trump on the issue of global warming, after he spent the past four years mocking and systematically rolling back every major climate change rule. The comity may also signal that while President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. is unlikely to secure his full climate plan, he may be able to make some progress in curbing global warming.
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, called the effort “the single biggest victory in the fight against climate change to pass this body in a decade.”
Senator John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming and a leading opponent of most climate change policies, also celebrated: “This agreement protects both American consumers and American businesses,” he said. “We can have clean air without damaging our economy.”
Advocates for climate change policy said passage of the climate measures — especially the limits on refrigerants — could signal to the rest of the world that the United States is ready to rejoin the global effort to slow the warming of the planet. The coolant phase-down would be one of the most significant federal policies ever taken to cut greenhouse gas emissions, according to an analysis by the Rhodium Group, a research and consulting firm.
By 2035, the law would help avoid the equivalent of 949 million tons of carbon dioxide, the group estimated, which is similar in scope to the extra expected emissions from Mr. Trump’s climate policy rollbacks on vehicle pollution and methane from oil and gas operations.
Mr. Biden has pledged to enact the most ambitious climate change agenda by a president. On his Inauguration Day he is expected to formally rejoin the Paris agreement, the 2015 pact under which nearly every country agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Mr. Trump formally withdrew the United States from the agreement in November. Mr. Biden has also pledged to host a global climate summit in Washington within the first 100 days of his administration.