The chamber planned to begin voting around noon on a mountain of amendments, mostly from Republican opponents and virtually all of which were destined to be rejected. That would put the Senate on track to pass its reworked version of the massive measure, likely over the weekend, and send it back to the House so that it can bring the final package to Biden for his signature.
Moments after the Senate adopted the legislation Thursday, Senator Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, forced the House Clerks to read the entire 628-page measure aloud. The grueling task took employees 10 hours and 44 minutes and ended shortly after 2 a.m. EST, with Johnson alternately sitting at his desk and pacing the nearly empty chamber.
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Democratic leaders made more than a dozen late additions to their package Thursday. That reflected his need to cement the unanimous support of all his senators, plus Vice President Kamala Harris’ runoff vote, to succeed in the precariously divided 50-50 chamber.
The Senate 51-50 vote to begin debating the package, with Harris pressing Democrats above all else, underscored how they were navigating the package through Congress with virtually no margin for error. In the House, his majority is a squalid 10 votes.
The bill, intended to combat the killer virus and help bring the faltering economy back to health, will provide direct payments of up to $ 1,400 to most Americans. There’s also money for COVID-19 vaccines and tests, aid to state and local governments, help for schools and the airline industry, tax breaks for low-income people and families with children, and insurance subsidies. doctor.
“We are not going to be shy about a big challenge,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y.
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The new provisions offered attractive elements for all types of Democrats. The progressives got money to boost food programs, federal health care subsidies for workers who lose their jobs, tax-free student loans, and money for public broadcasting and consumer protection research.
The moderates got funding for rural health care, language that ensures minimal amounts of money for smaller states, and a ban on states getting help using windfall profits to cut taxes. And for everyone, there was money for infrastructure, cultural spaces, start-ups, and after-school programs.
Even with the latest revisions, there was a good chance that lawmakers would do another and vote to lower the bill’s $ 400 weekly of emergency unemployment benefits to $ 300.
That potential change could also extend those emergency payments another month, through September. It was described by attendees and a lobbyist who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe internal conversations.
Biden and Senate leaders agreed Wednesday to withhold weekly unemployment payments of $ 400 included in the version of the relief bill that the House passed on Saturday. The cut to $ 300, which seemed likely to happen once the Senate began a “branch vote” on dozens of amendments later this week, seemed to reflect the need to gain support from moderate Democrats.
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He also left to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., The task of keeping the many progressives in her chamber on board. Liberals already took a hit when their number one priority, an increase in the federal minimum wage to $ 15 per hour that was included in the House package, was removed from the bill in the Senate for violating House rules and for lack of support from the moderates.
In another deal that satisfied moderates, Biden and Senate Democrats agreed on Wednesday to strengthen eligibility for direct people checks. The new provision completely eliminates payments of $ 1,400 for individuals earning at least $ 80,000 and couples earning $ 160,000, well below the original maximum limits.
“My hope is they don’t screw it up too much,” Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Massachusetts, said of the Senate in an interview. “If they do, there could be some problems.”
Congress wants to send the bill to Biden before March 14, when a previous round of emergency benefits expires for people left without work by the pandemic.
Johnson told reporters that he was forcing the bill to “shed light on this obscene and abusive amount of money.” Schumer said Johnson “would accomplish little more than a few sore throats for the Senate secretaries.”
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When asked about the GOP delays, Biden told reporters that he has spoken with Republican lawmakers, adding: “We keep everyone posted.” Biden met with Republican senators last month who offered a plan one-third the size of the Democrats’ proposal, and there have been no signs of serious talks since.
Johnson’s move pointed to a broader Republican argument: Democrats were imposing an overrated bill that ignored a growing number of vaccines and other signs that suggest the country’s ordeal is beginning to subside.
“Instead of heading into a dark tunnel, we are speeding our way out of it,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
The economic recovery began to stagnate late last year due to the rise of the virus, causing a shortfall in hiring in recent months. Employers added just 49,000 jobs in January and cut 227,000 jobs in December. Economists estimate that the February employment report to be released on Friday will show earnings of 175,000, which is not enough to quickly recover the nearly 10 million jobs lost from the pandemic-induced recession.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that economic growth will exceed 4% this year without Biden’s bailout package. Republicans cite as evidence the economy is heading upward, but Democrats say strong economic stimulus is still needed to prevent a relapse.
“It is a crisis that still affects us very much, and it is deadly, deadly serious,” Schumer said.
Associated Press writers Josh Boak, Alexandra Jaffe, and Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.
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