The Senate voted to start debate on President Joe Biden’s $ 1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package on Thursday after Democrats agreed among themselves on the final details of the bill, which include the financing of schools, the distribution of vaccines and unemployment benefits.
The vote was 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the decisive vote in favor of moving the bill forward.
The final package is almost identical to the proposal Biden put forward the week before his inauguration in January, with a few tweaks to appease the more moderate Democrats in the Senate. If passed, it would give hundreds of billions of dollars to states and communities to fill budget gaps due to the pandemic, include checks for $ 1,400, extend unemployment benefits until August, and provide food assistance. and rental to Americans in difficulty.
However, the changes are significant, especially with regard to direct payments. Sen. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) and other centrist Democrats demanded that the checks reach a smaller group of Americans than what Biden initially proposed, citing concerns that too many high incomes were benefiting from the stimulus financial.
Ultimately, the full checks would go to all Americans who made $ 75,000 or less ($ 150,000 for co-filers), but partial payments were sharply cut to $ 80,000 for individuals and $ 160,000. for co-registrants. This compromise is the second time Democrats have tightened income limits; The House bill originally had a threshold of $ 100,000 ($ 200,000 for joint filers), responding to early complaints from moderate Democrats about payments.
The victory of the moderates – denying checks to about 12 million Americans – was only part of their demands. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) called for more help for communities whose incomes had dried up due to the pandemic, while Senator Jeanne Shaheen (DN.H.) had asked to reallocate funds to States to expand broadband access.
Manchin also wanted to keep unemployment benefits at their current level of $ 300 per week, instead of increasing them to $ 400 per week, in addition to ending benefits in July instead of August. Democratic leaders did not concede to either of these demands, although that meant efforts by progressive members to extend unemployment benefits even further – until the end of September – have not succeeded.
As Democrats negotiated among themselves to finalize this relief bill, Republicans were resolute in their opposition, citing the impact of the legislation on the deficit. Republicans plan to flood Democrats with amendments in the final days before the bill receives its final vote. This process, known as vote-a-rama, could take days.
Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) Also wants to force clerks to read the entire 628-page bill aloud in the Senate, a process senators typically skip without objection. Reading an invoice of several hundred pages is expected to take up to 10 hours.
“We all know this will only delay the inevitable. It will accomplish little more than a few sore throats for Senate clerks, ”said Schumer, vowing to keep the House in session“ however long it takes ”.
“If the senator from Wisconsin wants to read it, let everyone listen to it because it has overwhelming support,” he added.
The White House also laughed at the Republicans’ delay tactics.
“So the ‘strategy’ is to further delay a hugely popular bailout that a majority of Republican voters support by … reminding people of the very content they support?” White House spokesman Andrew Bates tweeted Thursday.
Democrats have the American public on their side. The relief package has polled very well, even among Republicans. According to a survey conducted by The Economist / YouGov in late February, 66% of Americans supported Biden’s plan. Another Morning Consult poll found even more overwhelming support; 76% of Americans were in favor of the proposal, including 60% of Republicans.
The only Republican senator who has shown openness to the proposal is Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, whose home state was hit extremely hard during the pandemic, with a loss of more than 40% in tax revenue. She voted against advancing the bill towards final adoption, but has split her vote in the past.
“My state needs relief,” Murkowski told reporters on Capitol Hill earlier this week. “If Congress wants to transfer that much money, how am I going to make sure that states like Alaska – which have been badly affected, which still need relief, if that’s the term they’re using for this package – that we, in fact, get these, have access to those rescue dollars? “
The bill also includes an extension of the child tax credit, from $ 2,000 to a maximum of $ 3,600 per child, with provisions to distribute the money in the form of advance cash payments. Taken together, the changes essentially turn an obscure tax policy into a child benefit and would reduce child poverty.
Despite their willingness to pass a trillion dollar bill, Democratic leaders still operate with self-imposed cost constraints. The expanded child tax credit is only valid for 2021, as a single year of policy costs around $ 100 billion.
In a meeting with Congressional Democrats on Wednesday, Biden first indicated that he believed child tax policy should be permanent, as Congressional Democrats said. There’s a whole slew of more permanent policies Democrats plan to make in the coming months, like linking unemployment benefits to unemployment levels.
The bill only extends federal unemployment programs by five months, instead of six as Biden originally proposed, meaning benefits will expire at the end of August – when Congress begins its recess. summer.
“The second this bill passes, I’m going to fight like hell to get that sixth month,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) Told HuffPost.
But they’ll have to pass another bill to make it so – and they’ll either have to win the Republicans or change the rules of the Senate to do so.
Asked how Democrats would extend the bill’s temporary policies, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chairman of the budget committee, told HuffPost they would return to the reconciliation process, even if he didn’t ‘is normally used only once per fiscal year.
“This law is the most important labor law we have seen in the modern history of this country,” Sanders said. “Our job right now is to pass it and then move on to the second reconciliation bill as soon as possible.”
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