Senate nears relief bill votes after half-day GOP delay

It was described by aides and a lobbyist who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe internal conversations.Biden and Senate leaders had agreed Wednesday to retain the USD 400 weekly jobless payments included in the version of the relief bill the House approved Saturday.

PTI | Washington DC | Updated: 05-03-2021 19:26 IST | Created: 05-03-2021 19:26 IST
Senate nears relief bill votes after half-day GOP delay

The Senate steered on Friday toward a voting marathon on Democrats' USD 1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill after enduring an extraordinary half-day holdup forced by a Republican foe of President Joe Biden's top legislative priority. The chamber planned to begin voting around midday on a mountain of amendments, mostly by GOP opponents and virtually all of which were destined to be rejected. That would set the Senate on course toward approving its reworked version of the massive measure, probably over the weekend, and shipping it back to the House so it could whisk the final package to Biden for his signature. Moments after the Senate took up the legislation Thursday, Sen Ron Johnson, R-Wis., forced the chamber's clerks to read aloud the entire 628-page measure. The exhausting task took the staffers 10 hours and 44 minutes and ended shortly after 2 am EST, with Johnson alternately sitting at his desk and pacing around the mostly empty chamber. Democratic leaders made more than a dozen late additions to their package on Thursday. That reflected their need to cement unanimous support from all their senators — plus Vice President Kamala Harris' tie-breaking vote — to succeed in the precariously divided 50-50 chamber. The Senate's 51-50 vote to start debating the package, with Harris pushing Democrats over the top, underscored how they were navigating the package through Congress with virtually no margin for error. In the House their majority is a scrawny 10 votes.

The bill, aimed at battling the killer virus and nursing the staggered economy back to health, will provide direct payments of up to USD 1,400 to most Americans. There's also money for COVID-19 vaccines and testing, aid to state and local governments, help for schools and the airline industry, tax breaks for lower-earners and families with children, and subsidies for health insurance.

“We are not going to be timid in the face of a great challenge,'' said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

The new provisions offered items appealing to all manner of Democrats.

Progressives got money boosting feeding programs, federal subsidies for health care for workers who lose jobs, tax-free student loans, and money for public broadcasting and consumer protection investigations. Moderates won funds for rural health care, language assuring minimum amounts of money for smaller states and a prohibition on states receiving aid using the windfalls to cut taxes. And for everyone, there was money for infrastructure, cultural venues, start-up companies and afterschool programs.

Even with the late revisions, there was a good chance lawmakers will make yet another one and vote to pare back the bill's USD 400 weekly emergency unemployment benefits to USD 300.

That potential change could also extend those emergency payments another month, through September. It was described by aides and a lobbyist who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe internal conversations.

Biden and Senate leaders had agreed Wednesday to retain the USD 400 weekly jobless payments included in the version of the relief bill the House approved Saturday. The reduction to USD 300 — which seemed likely to occur once the Senate begins a “vote-a-rama” on scores of amendments later this week — seemed to reflect a need to secure support from moderate Democrats.

It also left House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the task of keeping her chamber's numerous progressives on board. Liberals already suffered a blow when their No. 1 priority — a federal minimum wage increase to USD 15 hourly that was included in the House package — was booted from the bill in the Senate for violating the chamber's rules and for lack of moderates' support. In another bargain that satisfied moderates, Biden and Senate Democrats agreed Wednesday to tighten eligibility for the direct checks to individuals. The new provision completely phases out the USD 1,400 payments for individuals earning at least USD 80,000 and couples making USD 160,000, well lower than the original ceilings. “My hope is they don't screw around with it too much,” Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., said of the Senate in an interview. “If they do there could be some problems.”

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)


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