The Senate ended a 27-hour marathon overnight session Saturday by narrowly passing a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package. Senators voted 50-49 along party lines with one Republican—Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska—absent. The approval got Democrats one step closer to fulfilling one of the biggest early priorities for President Joe Biden. Now the bill must go back to the House of Representatives. Although a small group of moderate Democrats pushed some changes in the final bill that angered progressives that isn’t expected to lead to a rejection of the measure in the House, where Democrats have the edge by 10 votes.
The bill was approved after an all-nighter in which Democrats swatted away efforts by the Republican minority to push through around three dozen amendments. Some lawmakers appeared to fall asleep at their desks overnight and at one point Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii was seen stretching.
The bill would inject lots of money into the economy, including, most notably, through direct payments of up to $1,400 to most Americans. The measure also includes $350 billion to help state and local governments and cash to help distribute vaccines and other COVID-related programs. It also has $300 a week in extended unemployment benefits until early September, in what ended up being one of the most controversial parts of the session as some moderate members forced a scaling back of the aid.
Ultimatley, the version of the bill that passed the Senate ended up dropping several of the aspects of Biden’s original plan amid opposition from moderate Democrats. Most notably, the measure doesn’t include an increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 as some Democrats opposed a move to override the conclusion by the Senate’s parliamentarian that it couldn’t stay in the bill. Democrats also lowered the income cap of who could receive stimulus payments by $20,000 to $80,000 for individuals, $120,000 for single parents, and $160,000 for households. The full $1,400 will go to individuals earning up to $75,000, single parents earning $112,500 and couples making $150,000. Despite the moderate vs. progressives tension, Democrats celebrated the passage on Saturday and broke out in applause with Sen. Bernie Sanders, who failed in an effort to revive the $15 minimum wage, fist-bumping Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Republicans accused Democrats of pushing through a wasteful measure that ignores recent signs that the economy could be improving. “The Senate has never spent $2 trillion in a more haphazard way,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. “Their top priority wasn’t pandemic relief. It was their Washington wish list.” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, on the other hand, said that “this bill will deliver more help to more people than anything the federal government has done in decades.” Schumer had characterized the package as “one of the largest anti-poverty bills in recent memory.”
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