Senate Passes $1.9 Trillion Covid-19 Relief Bill

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

UPDATE, 9:38 AM PT: The Senate passed a $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill after an all-night marathon session.

The legislation now heads to the House before it can go to President Joe Biden. The massive spending package would be his first major legislative achievement.

The billed passed along party lines, in a vote of 50-49. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), thought to be a potential Republican supporter of the legislation, ultimately ended up voting no.

Democrats knew that the process for passing the legislation would be complicated, but there was unexpected drama on Friday, when party leaders negotiated throughout the day and into the evening with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.VA), a moderate, on the structure of unemployment benefits. In the end, they came up with a compromise so the legislation provides an extra $300 per week of jobless benefits, to be extended through Sept. 6.

The legislation also will provide $1,400 in direct payments to those making up to $75,000 per year, or $150,000 for joint filers. The payments would phase out completely for those making above $80,000, or $160,000 for joint filers.

The Senate voted throughout the night and into the morning on a series of amendments to the legislation, as the session lasted more than 24 hours.

Biden said after the vote, “When I was elected, I said we were going to get government out of the business of battling on Twitter and in the business of delivering for the American people, of making a difference in their lives, giving everyone a chance, a fighting chance, of showing the American people that their government can work for them. And passing the American Rescue Plan will do that.”

Asked about not getting any Republicans to support the bill, Biden said, “Look, the American people strongly support what we’re doing. That’s the key here, and that’s going to continue to seep down through the public, including from our Republican friends. There’s a lot of Republicans who came very close. They’ve got a lot of pressure on them. I still haven’t given up getting their support.”

PREVIOUSLY: Senate Democrats reached a deal to end an impasse over the Covid-19 relief bill, after coming to an agreement with moderate Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. VA) on the size of the legislation’s outlay for unemployment benefits.

The bill now will provide an extra $300 per week of jobless benefits that extends through Sept. 6. Those making less than $150,000 will get a tax break on the first $10,200 of their benefits.

The House version of the bill, which passed last week, provided an extra $400 per week of the jobless benefits.

The $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief legislation stalled out on Friday morning, as Democrats worked through the day to reach some kind of agreement with Manchin that would trim the size of the unemployment benefit.

Manchin announced a deal on Friday evening. “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,” he 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.”

When the Senate started session on Friday, it looked as if it would be a day-long marathon of votes on amendments to the legislation, a process dubbed vote-a-rama.

But the process was stopped shortly after 11 AM as lawmakers cast votes on whether to override the Senate parliamentarian and include in the legislation a proposal to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour. Democrats fell well short of the votes needed to do so, but the vote was officially held open into the evening as a compromise was worked out with Manchin. According to C-SPAN, the Senate even set a new record for the longest vote.

The Covid-19 bill would be President Joe Biden’s first major legislative achievement, but he has no votes to spare in the Senate.

With a 50-50 split, the West Virginia senator, perhaps the most moderate of all Democrats in the caucus, holds tremendous sway. As it is, even with his vote, Vice President Kamala Harris had to be present on Thursday to break a tie to advance the Covid-19 legislation to debate.

Among other things, the relief package also provides $1,400 in direct payments, money for state and local governments, eligibility for emergency small-business loans to a wider scope of companies, and an additional $135 million each to the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities to help organizations make up budget shortfalls.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that Biden supports the latest compromise and “is grateful to all the Senators who worked so hard to reach this outcome.”

The Senate will next move on to votes on additional amendments, which likely will extend the process into Saturday morning or even through the weekend.

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