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House Is Expected To Vote Wednesday On Biden's COVID-19 Relief Bill

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

The Biden administration is on the verge of its first major legislative accomplishment. The House will vote soon on a $1.9 trillion relief package. Biden's American Rescue Plan passed the Senate by just one vote this weekend, and it will likely become law without a single Republican supporting the measure. The massive price tag is a big point of contention for Republicans and some moderate Democrats.

Democratic Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger of Virginia voted for the House bill last month. But as a Democrat in a purple district, she likely understands some of those concerns from conservatives. She joins us this morning. Good morning, Congresswoman.

ABIGAIL SPANBERGER: Good morning. Thanks for having me on.

DETROW: I do want to start with the cost. President Biden has repeatedly said in this emergency, it is better to go too big than too small. But especially as we start to see some signs of economic and public health recovery, what do you make about these worries over inflation or adding so much debt?

SPANBERGER: So this is about momentum. You are right that we are starting to see positive signs in the economy, starting to see positive signs with vaccine distribution. But this is about the momentum that - and the trajectory that we have in beating this virus, opening schools, strengthening our economy, getting to a point where we are really, truly rebuilding from this pandemic and turning a new page. And we cannot let this momentum go. We need to invest into it. We need to ensure that we can continue to beat this virus, open schools safely, reopen the economy and ensure that families can survive, just as we are ideally on the waning days of what's been a very, very long year in American history.

DETROW: Right now, do you see yourself voting for another COVID relief package down the line after this one?

SPANBERGER: I think it all remains to be seen. Really the purpose of this relief bill - right? - when we're looking at some of the components - massive investments in vaccine distribution. In central Virginia alone, we have just expanded who is eligible under the umbrella of essential workers. We just started giving out our first Johnson & Johnson vaccines - went to a postal worker. And this bill invests $20 billion to improve on vaccine distribution to leverage the Defense Production Act, another $10 billion. And, of course, we've got to continue testing money for that, right? So that's one component.

For those who continue to be facing unemployment, we've got additional support to them so that they can weather the storm now through September. So we really are looking into the future, towards the fall when schools can reopen, we can be out in restaurants enjoying a bit of normal life with ideally just about every American who wants a vaccine having been vaccinated. And that's the goal of this bill.

DETROW: And speaking of schools, I want to talk about one aspect involving children - the child tax credits in this measure. This creates monthly payments to many families with children. You know, the president, as you're saying, has framed this overall bill as emergency relief. But at the same time, there are many Democrats in Congress who say they are really hoping that this tax credit becomes a permanent new program to provide more security for struggling parents. How do you see it?

SPANBERGER: I think we have to legislate one thing at a time. You know, this bill is about getting us through the remainder of this pandemic. And so that's why the child tax credit portion is applicable for the year. I think future conversations about whether this is a piece of policy that has, you know, long-term viability in our country is a separate conversation. And so I hear many of my colleagues who want to have that conversation. It's certainly, I think, a valuable one.

Any sort of program that - in Virginia alone, for example, the tax credit would lift 85,000 Virginian children out of poverty. These sorts of programs, I think, are worthy of discussion. But I don't think that it's something that we should be looking at just a continuation of the American rescue plan because this is an investment in us getting out of this virus. And, you know, addressing issues of tax policy should be a separate conversation.

DETROW: Got it. You know, a lot of people in President Biden's orbit have made it clear they don't want to repeat what they view as some of the tactical mistakes of the early Obama years. One of those big things is they feel like they passed these needed rescue plans in an economic emergency. Then they got beat up at the polls for it. You are going to be hearing these spending attacks given the makeup of your district. What is the case you are making to your constituents about why so much additional money is needed in this moment?

SPANBERGER: I think this comes down to one of the basic tenets of politics, which is do the right thing and the politics will come - you know, the politics will work itself out. I believe it is the right thing to ensure that every Virginian has the ability to get vaccinated, that our schools, particularly in the rural communities I represent, have the additional funding and support, and the large suburban communities I represent, you know, contending with tens of thousands of students, hundreds of thousands of students, have the support that they need; that those who are facing unemployment will be able to weather the storm. This is the right thing for the American people, and I believe that the American people will see that. And, you know, that's my...

DETROW: All right.

SPANBERGER: ...Concern, and that's why I serve in Congress.

DETROW: Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, thanks so much.

SPANBERGER: Thank you very much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.