Senate Passes Biden’s $ 1.9 Trillion COVID Relief Bill After “vote-a-rama”

Washington – The Senate approved President Biden’s proposal. $ 1.9 Trillion Coronavirus Relief Package Saturday, more than 24 hours after the opening of the debate on the bill. A grueling amendment process, known as “vote-a-rama,” stalled for nearly 12 hours on Friday due to disagreements within the Democratic caucus over an unemployment insurance benefit.

The final vote was 50-49, with all Democrats voting for the bill and all Republicans voting against. The bill’s passage was met with cheers and applause from Democrats, celebrating the passage of one of Biden’s key priorities. Vice President Kamala Harris did not need to visit the Capitol to break any ties, as Republican Senator Dan Sullivan left due to a family emergency on Friday.

Democrats pulled a victory lap after the bill passed, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters after the vote that “it’s a great day for this country.” Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders called the bill “the most important piece of legislation to benefit working families in the modern history of this country.”

President Biden called the plan “historic” during a speech Saturday.

“For more than a year the American people were told they were alone,” he said, then added: “This nation has suffered too much for far too long, and everything in this package is designed to alleviate suffering and meet the most urgent needs. of the nation. “

The president noted that 85% of American households will soon receive direct payments of $ 1,400 per person, and a “typical middle-class family of four” will receive $ 5,600. “That means the mortgage can be paid. That means keeping the health insurance you have. It’s going to make a huge difference in so many lives in this country,” he said.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow said the bill’s passage was an emotional moment for Democrats.

“The people on the floor, at our caucus, it was almost like tears in their eyes. I mean, I felt it,” Stabenow said.

The House will vote on the amended legislation on Tuesday, after the House passed a slightly different version of the bill last week. If approved by the House, then it will go to Mr. Biden’s desk for signature. Schumer expressed confidence that the Senate version of the bill will pass the House.

“They feel like we do it, we have to do this,” he said.

Financial aid legislation is widely popular, with recent polls showing a majority of Americans support it, particularly the provision that establishes $ 1,400 in direct checks to those earning less than $ 75,000. Senate Democrats reached an agreement to limit eligibility for who gets direct checks earlier this week. Other provisions of the bill include an additional $ 300 for weekly unemployment benefits through Sept. 6, a child allowance of up to $ 3,600 per family, $ 350 billion in aid to state and local governments, and $ 14 billion for the distribution of vaccines.

Biden thanked the American people for their “overwhelming bipartisan support” of the package, without which “this would not have happened,” he said.

The final vote came after an arduous “branch vote,” in which the Senate debated, considered and voted on 39 amendments over a 25-hour period. The process was initially delayed by a deadlock involving Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia moderate who has become a key player in the evenly divided Senate.

On Friday night, Senate Democrats reached a deal accepted by Manchin, after he had a lengthy meeting with Schumer. The compromise amendment extended additional unemployment insurance benefits through September 6, makes the first $ 10,200 of unemployment insurance benefits tax-free for households with incomes less than $ 150,000, and extends the tax rules with Regarding Excessive Business Loss Limits through 2026.

The compromise amendment was approved by 50 votes to 49 shortly after 1 a.m. It was nearly identical to an amendment proposed under a deal reached Friday morning by progressives and moderates, with the only change to the income cap for nontaxable benefits.

Biden emphasized during his speech Saturday that the agreement extended assistance for the 11 million Americans who lost their jobs due to the pandemic and whose benefits were “about to expire,” he said.

Manchin has assumed a powerful role in the caucus because it is one of the decisive votes in an evenly divided Senate. Democrats have 50 seats, which means there is no room for dissent in the ranks – losing the support of a single senator means losing the general vote. Earlier on Friday, Manchin appeared leaning to support an amendment introduced by Republican Senator Rob Portman that would have cut the unemployment insurance benefit from $ 400 to $ 300 and extended it only through June.

Stimulus Package Faces Long Final Senate Voting Challenge
Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, center, speaks to members of the media at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, USA, on Friday, March 5, 2021.

Bloomberg / Contributor

The “vote-a-branch” initially began Friday morning with a failed vote on an amendment proposed by Senator Bernie Sanders that would have raised the federal minimum wage.. But the vote remained open even after all the senators had voted, preventing the next amendment from being considered and allowing Democrats to work behind the scenes to convince Manchin to support their unemployment insurance benefits amendment.

After nearly 12 hours, the vote on Sanders’ amendment closed shortly before 11 p.m., making it the longest vote in modern Senate history. The “vote-a-rama” resumed shortly before midnight with a vote on the amendment to Portman’s unemployment insurance benefit, which passed 50 votes to 49, with Manchin’s support. However, that amendment will be canceled by the Democratic amendment, which was voted on a few hours later and which Manchin also supported. This compromise amendment will be included in the final bill.

Manchin acknowledged to journalists after the final vote on the bill on Saturday afternoon that the negotiations “took longer than they should have,” but expressed his satisfaction with the final bill.

“We did it and we got a better deal,” Manchin said.

The Senate met Friday morning for a two-hour debate, followed by a vote on the Sanders amendment, which would have raised the minimum wage without tips to $ 15 per hour by 2025, and the minimum wage with tips to $ 14. , 75 for seven years. The Senate MP ruled last week that the Senate could not include a provision that raised the minimum wage to $ 15 under budget reconciliation rules, so Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham raised a point of order challenging the amendment.

Manchin, as well as Democratic Senators Jon Tester, Jeanne Shaheen, Kyrsten Sinema, Chris Coons, Tom Carper and Maggie Hassan, joined Republicans in voting against allowing the provision to be included. Senator Angus King, an independent who runs with Democrats, also voted against adding the minimum wage increase to the bill. Manchin and Sinema, in particular, had previously voiced their opposition to raising the minimum wage to $ 15.

Congress is using the budget reconciliation process to pass the bill, which limits debate time and allows legislation to be passed with a simple majority, a solution that bypasses the 60-vote threshold that most bills have. required law to advance in the Senate. If all Democrats support the final bill, it would pass without any Republican support.

But Republicans are critical of the bill’s size and frustrated that Democrats are using the reconciliation process, arguing that they are taking a partisan route rather than working across the hall. Democrats respond that they don’t need to waste time negotiating with Republicans to reach the 60-vote threshold and pass a smaller package.

In retaliation, Republican senators tried to make the amendment process politically painful for Democrats, with mixed results. One of those votes could be an amendment to prevent undocumented immigrants from receiving stimulus checks. During the “vote-a-rama” last month On the budget resolution to establish the reconciliation process, eight Democrats joined all Republicans in voting for the amendment, infuriating progressives. However, when the Senate voted on the amendment Saturday morning, it failed without any Democratic support.

The Senate passed two amendments by voice vote, one on veterans’ education and one on helping homeless children. The latest amendment was proposed by Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Manchin, and will dedicate $ 800 billion in educational funding specifically for homeless children. The final amendment considered during the “vote-a-branch” was a bipartisan amendment sponsored by Republican Senator Marco Rubio and Democratic Senator Mark Warner, which extends protections for federal contractors until Sept. 30.

The Senate version of the bill differs from the House bill in several ways, including the amendments that passed on Friday and Saturday. Some recently added measures, according to a Democratic aide to the Senate, include $ 510 million for FEMA and $ 750 million for states and communities affected by job and income losses in the tourism, travel and outdoor recreation sectors. Another provision sets aside funds for education, including $ 1.25 billion for evidence-based summer enrichment, $ 1.25 billion for after-school programs and $ 3 billion for educational technology. It would also make the COVID-19 student loan relief tax-free.

A vote on the motion to proceed to debate on the legislation was successful in a party line vote Thursday afternoon, with Harris breaking the 50-50 tie. Although budget reconciliation rules allow up to 20 hours of debate before the “vote by branch,” Republicans and Democrats only used two, after Republican Senator Ron Johnson forced the Senate Secretary to read the entire bill out loud. high on Thursday night. The process took almost 11 hours and ended early on Friday morning. The Senate agreed to meet later Friday morning for up to three hours of debate, but the time saved by limiting debate time was quickly lost with the nearly 12-hour delay on the unemployment insurance amendment.

“The bottom line is this: This plan sets us on the path to defeat this virus,” Biden said Saturday. “This plan gives the families who struggle the most the help and respite they need to get through this moment. This plan gives the small businesses of this country a chance to fight to survive. And one more thing,” he added. ” this The plan is historic. “

Jack Turman and Audrey McNamara contributed reporting.


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