Politics Senate grinds toward passage of $1.9 trillion Biden coronavirus relief plan
The debate over state and local aid in Biden’s stimulus bill, explained
Could some of that $350 billion be better spent elsewhere?So, naturally, a debate has broken out over whether they might be getting too much of a good thing — or even giving Republicans a political gift.
The Senate inched toward approving President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan Saturday, as Democrats voted down one GOP amendment after another en route to delivering the new president his first major legislative win.
Some senators appeared sleepy and tripped over their words on the floor of the Senate as the debate that had begun Friday morning stretched toward 7 a.m. Saturday. Democrats pushed ahead with the sweeping economic and public health measure afteron Friday with Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) that resulted in significant changes to enhanced unemployment insurance benefits in the bill.
Fact check: Breaking down spending in the COVID-19 relief bill
About 85% of the proposed spending is pandemic-related, a nonpartisan analysis found. But only about 9% goes to direct COVID-19 intervention. Around 8.5% of the $1.9 trillion, at most, goes to direct containment measures such as vaccines and testing. The total is somewhere between $100 billion and $160 billion, depending on whether one includes items like $10 billion in medical supplies and $24 billion in child care for essential workers, as the White House does in arriving at the larger figure.
Having cleared that hurdle, Democrats stood within reach of passing the sweeping legislation that would send out a new round of $1,400 stimulus checks, $350 billion to cities and states, $130 billion to schools, and provide billions more for food assistance, rental relief, a national vaccine program and more. The Senate was plowing through dozens of amendments in a chaotic process known as a “vote-a-rama” that threatened to drag into late Saturday morning.
The Senate approved in a 50 to 49 vote an amendment from Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) to pull back unemployment benefits in the bill from September to mid-July. But in line with an agreement reached between Manchin, senior Senate Democrats, and the White House, the Senate later approved an overriding amendment to extend jobless benefits through Sept. 6 at $300 per week — lower than the $400 per week pushed by the Biden administration and House Democrats.
Senate Democrats announce deal on unemployment insurance, allowing Biden bill to move forward
The Senate will debate and vote on amendments to the proposed $1.9 trillion stimulus starting Friday, a process that is expected to bring fiery exchanges but ultimate passage of President Biden's top legislative priority.The agreement would extend the existing $300 weekly unemployment benefit through Sept. 6, as well as provide tax relief on benefits for households making under $150,000.
Senate Democrats announce deal on unemployment insurance, allowing Biden bill to move forward
The vote also incorporated a provision to provide tax relief on up to $10,200 in unemployment benefits for households making under $150,000, a measure Democrats pushed to prevent families from facing surprise year-end tax bills.
The unemployment provisions sparked a back-and-forth on the Senate floor between Portman and Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), with Portman citing the reopening of many sectors in states across the country to argue the benefits were unnecessary.
“Suddenly, if you’re on unemployment insurance you don’t have to pay taxes. But if you’re working, you do have to pay taxes. How does that work?” Portman said.
Wyden responded that the tax forgiveness only included modest relief for jobless Americans, adding of the GOP’s opposition: “The party that claims to want to help workers on their taxes won’t lift a finger.”
Senate approves Biden's $1.9 trillion pandemic relief plan
The victory for Democrats came after long impasse over competing proposals for the bill's boost to unemployment benefits.The 50-49 vote, entirely along party lines, came after the Senate remained in session for more than 24 hours of marathon votes. Senate Republicans sought to amend the legislation but Senate Democrats largely stuck together to defeat any major changes to the bill — one of the largest federal aid packages in history.
‘It just sucks’: America’s jobless owe thousands of dollars in taxes on their unemployment
The White House backed the compromise measure on jobless benefits. Biden spoke personally with Manchin on Friday in an effort to resolve the issue at a moment when Manchin’s vote looked uncertain, according to a person with knowledge of the conversation who spoke on the condition of anonymity to confirm it.
“The president supports the compromise agreement, and is grateful to all the senators who worked so hard to reach this outcome,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki. “It extends supplemental unemployment benefit into September, and helps the vast majority of unemployment insurance recipients avoid unanticipated tax bills. Most importantly, this agreement allows us to move forward on the urgently needed American Rescue Plan.”
Manchin hailed the deal on unemployment benefits in a statement saying it “enables the economy to rebound quickly while also protecting those receiving unemployment benefits from being hit with [an] unexpected tax bill next year.”
Senate Nears Saturday Passage After All-Nighter: Stimulus Update
The Senate is on track to pass President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus bill as early as midday Saturday after a compromise reduced added unemployment benefits to $300 a week, one of several ways moderate Democrats shaped the bill to be less generous than the House version. Democrats also fought off a raft of Republican amendments to cut state and local funding, redirect Amtrak funding, end aid to indebted minority farmers, and stop grants for non-profit entities. The amendment process began after 11 a.m. on Friday.But the chamber voted to include the deal Democrats reached within their own ranks to extend until Sept.
Once passed by the Senate, the overall legislation would still have to go back to the House for final passage before getting sent to Biden to sign, something that’s expected to happen early this coming week. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has guaranteed the House will pass the Senate’s version of the bill, though House liberals were voicing growing discomfort over changes pushed by Senate moderates they said watered down the bill.
The Senate took up various other amendments early Saturday morning, though none appeared likely to alter the fate of the bill. Numerous proposals pushed by Senate Republicans — including an attempt by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) to offer a $650 billion bill in place of Biden’s; an effort by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) to tie school funding to reopening; and a plan by Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) demanding transparency in state nursing home investigations — were defeated narrowly by the Democratic majority.
An effort by Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) to strip funding from Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor — which he described as “a woefully mismanaged public railway system that benefits very few Americans” — and redirect it to the Coast Guard, met resistance from Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) as dawn began to break on Saturday.
“The sun is coming up in Washington, D.C., and we have spent all night debating policy and questions to arrive at this moment at 6 a.m. with an amendment that is literally robbing Peter to pay Paul,” Cantwell said, arguing Amtrak had suffered drastic revenue losses because of covid, and that Coast Guard needs could be addressed in other legislation.
‘We need the government’: Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief plan reflects seismic shifts in U.S. politics
The disparity between the reception to President Obama’s 2009 stimulus plan and President Biden’s is the result of several seismic shifts in American politics — the most dramatic of which may be the apparent impact of the pandemic on attitudes about the role of government in helping the economy. Since the outset of the coronavirus, polling has found substantial support among Americans for providing more government aid for those in need. That is partially due to the nature of the current crisis, which for a time opened a deeper economic hole than even the Great Recession.
Scott’s amendment was defeated 47-51.
Democrats also beat back an effort from members of their own party to overturn some of the president’s environmental actions. Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) joined with Senate Republicans in pushing an amendment requiring Biden to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, which was halted soon after Biden took office. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) spoke out against the measure, citing the need to combat climate change. The proposal required 60 votes to be approved but fell short of that threshold, 51 to 48.
Many of the amendment votes could have ended with 50-50 votes in the evenly divided Senate, requiring Vice President Harris to break multiple ties — including when time comes to vote on final passage of the legislation. However, one GOP senator, Dan Sullivan of Alaska, was absent because he had to return to his home state to attend a family funeral. As a result, multiple amendments went down on 50-49 votes with no ties to break.
Despite Democrats’ ultimate success in breaking the stimulus logjam, the confusing developments that brought debate to a standstill for hours on Friday highlighted the challenges Biden faces in getting his agenda through Congress given the exceedingly narrow Democratic majorities in both chambers. After disavowing bipartisan negotiations to pass a sweeping relief bill opposed by the GOP, Biden confronted a scenario where a single balky moderate Democrat had the ability to upset his plans.
The same scenario could arise on future legislation, potentially make it difficult for Biden to push forward with legislation on infrastructure, immigration and other priorities.
On Friday, the U.S. economy saw an encouragingshowing 379,000 jobs had been added in February. However, the unemployment rate remained dramatically elevated above pre-coronavirus levels with more than 9 million Americans remaining jobless.
More than 520,000 people have died from covid in the U.S., though case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths have begun to level out or fall as vaccination becomes more widespread.
Still, Republicans argued that after committing some $4 trillion last year to fighting the pandemic — including $900 billion in December — no more spending was needed.
Covid relief wasn't the only pressing issue facing Congress. Here are 6 others .
Democrats' slim majorities in both the House and Senate are testing President Joe Biden's ability to get his priorities through Congress, as lawmakers turn their attention to legislative work beyond relief from the Covid-19 pandemic. © Joshua Roberts/Getty Images Clouds pass overt the Capitol Dome as the Senate resumes debate on overriding the veto of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on December 31, 2020 in Washington, DC. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is filibustering the NDAA, calling for a Senate vote on giving Americans $2,000 in direct payments for COVID-19 relief.