WASHINGTON – The Democratic-controlled Senate on Thursday voted to open debate on President Joe Biden’s $ 1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package in an online vote that paves the way for a contentious process with the Republicans.
The procedural motion was passed 51 to 50, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie. It came after Senate Democrats made a few changes to the version passed by the House, including new cash payment eligibility limits of $ 1,400.
“It’s time to tell the American people that help is on its way,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., said before the vote.
The final passage to the Senate could take place this weekend, after debate and votes on the amendments. The process was delayed after Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson forced the 628-page bill to be read in the Senate Thursday afternoon. Once passed, the House will have to vote again on the measure before it can pass it on to the Speaker.
The legislation is the product of negotiations between Senate Democrats and Biden. The bill does not need Republican votes to pass because Democrats use a special budget process to bypass filibuster.
Other changes include increasing COBRA health care subsidies for unemployed people from 85% to 100% and making all Covid-19 student loan relief tax exempt. , said a Democratic Senate aide. There is also an additional $ 200 million for Amtrak, $ 510 million for homeless services under FEMA and $ 175 million for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
The Senate bill also slaps new “crash barriers” on the $ 350 billion for national and local relief, the Democratic aide said. This provision is one of the main targets of the Republican opposition.
The law also provides $ 8.5 billion in aid for rural health care providers. Senator Susan Collins, Republican from Maine, has pushed for additional funding in this area.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Called the Democratic bill a “partisan spending spree” shortly before Thursday’s procedural vote.
Before a final vote can take place, there will be a period of unlimited amendments, known as vote-a-rama. Republicans say they plan to try to get Democrats on the ball with a myriad of amendments, forcing them to defend the politically controversial provisions of the bill. This will likely include motions to “delete” certain policies.