Senate Advances $1.9 Trillion Covid-19 Relief Bill; Kamala Harris Casts Tie-Breaking Vote To Start Debate


The Senate voted to advance a $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill, which includes direct payments to families and extends enhanced unemployment benefits, but it could be a long slog before there is a final vote.

The vote was 51-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris voting in favor to break a tie.

The Senate, though, is in for a marathon of a session. In an effort to delay passage of the legislation, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) insisted that the 628-page bill be read in its entirety, a process that may take up to 10 hours. Then the Senate faces a process where members can offer amendments for a vote, a lengthy proceeding known as “vote-a-rama.”

The House last week passed the legislation in a narrow 219-212 vote, with no Republicans in support

If the bill passes, it will be President Joe Biden’s first major legislative accomplishment. Although he signaled a willingness to work with GOP lawmakers on the bill, he also said that it was urgent that such a massive piece of spending legislation pass, given the need for further vaccination funding, relief to state and local governments and outlays to prevent a recession.

The legislation includes $1,400 in direct payments for individuals who make up to $75,000, or joint filers who make $150,000. In the Senate version of the bill, those who make more than $80,000 or joint followers who make over $150,000 would get no payment. That is a less generous formula than the House version.

The bill also does not include an increase of the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, after the Senate parliamentarian ruled last week that such a change could not be brought to the floor for a simple majority vote, which Democrats are seeking.

The Senate legislation also would increase the weekly unemployment benefit from an extra $300 to an additional $400. Those benefits also would be extended through Aug. 2. Gig workers, freelancers and independent contractors would continue to be eligible.

The Senate remained in session on Thursday despite a visible increase in security, including a National Guard presence, after authorities warned of the threat of another attack on the Capitol. The complex is still surrounded by a black metal fence, put in place after the Capitol siege on Jan. 6. An intelligence report showed that the latest threat from a militia group was motivated by a conspiracy theory that Donald Trump would return to office on this day. But things were relatively quiet at the Capitol, where the inauguration platform was taken down weeks ago.

The House actually moved planned votes from Thursday to Wednesday. Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters that the decision “made sense,” but said that is was a minimal disruption. “I don’t think anybody should take any encouragement that because some troublemakers might show up, that we changed our whole schedule,” she said. “No, we just moved it a few hours, and it largely will accommodate the Republicans going to their own session.” She was referring to the Republican caucus which is holding a policy conference.

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