WASHINGTON — The Senate passed a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package Saturday, capping off a marathon overnight session after Democrats resolved internal clashes that threatened to derail President Joe Biden’s top legislative priority.
The far-reaching legislation includes $1,400 stimulus checks, $300-per-week jobless benefits through summer, a child allowance of up to $3,600 for one year, $350 billion for state aid, $34 billion to expand Affordable Care Act subsidies and $14 billion for vaccine distribution.
The final vote was 50-49 along party lines, with every Republican voting “no.” It came after Democrats voted down a swath of Republican amendments on repeated votes of 50-49 to avoid disrupting the delicate agreement between progressive and moderate senators.
Before it can be signed by Biden, the legislation will have to be passed again by the House after the Senate made changes to its version, which Democrats approved along party lines last Saturday.
The vote was a critical early test of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s ability to keep all 50 Democrats unified behind a major piece of legislation despite being an ideologically and regionally diverse caucus.
“We’re not going to make the same mistake we made after the last economic downtown, when Congress did too little to help the nation rebound, locking us into a long, slow, painful recovery,” Schumer said before the vote. “We are not going to be timid in the face of big challenges.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., blasted Democrats for taking a partisan approach and said the United States economy is “going to come roaring back and mostly not because of this bill — in fact, in some ways in spite of this bill.”
The legislation would be a victory for Biden, who campaigned for president primarily on bringing Covid-19 under control and reviving a shattered economy. The package also includes many progressive priorities, although others like a minimum wage hike to $15 an hour were forced out.
The absence of Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, due to a family emergency prevented Vice President Kamala Harris from having to break a tie in the 50-50 chamber, which she had to do to allow the Senate to begin debate on the bill.
The Senate’s changes include reducing the jobless benefits to $300 (from $400 in the House bill) and extending them slightly to September 6. The Senate limited eligibility for the $1,400 checks by capping the payments for those who make $80,000, or $160,000 for couples. And the bill subsidizes 100 percent of COBRA insurance coverage for jobless Americans, up from 85 percent in the House version.
The Senate also approved some modest and non-controversial amendments offered by both parties before passing the final version.
The Senate appeared ready to begin the lengthy process, known as a vote-a-rama, on Friday morning. But then Democratic leadership hit pause to sort out a last-minute dispute over jobless benefits and keep Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., on board, after he appeared ready to side with Republicans and change that provision, a move that would have alienated progressives.
As a result, Democrats dragged out the first vote of the day for 11 hours and 50 minutes, setting a new record for the longest Senate vote.
In the end, Manchin agreed to support a provision backed by other Democrats that also allows the first $10,200 of the jobless benefits to be non-taxable for incomes up to $150,000.
“The President has made it clear we will have enough vaccines for every American by the end of May, and I am confident the economic recovery will follow,” Manchin said. “We have reached a compromise that enables the economy to rebound quickly while also protecting those receiving unemployment benefits from being hit with unexpected tax bill next year.”
Biden was in touch with Manchin during the course of the negotiations on the unemployment benefits compromise, a source familiar with the discussions said.
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