The Senate passed President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package Saturday, after an overnight “vote-a-rama” and a dramatic 12-hour unity battle to keep one centrist Democrat appease in order to prevent any derailments passing their liberal agenda.
The final vote was 50-49 along party lines, with not one Republican backing the bill in the Senate, underscoring the sharp deeply partisan divide Biden promised to heal.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) blasted Democrats ahead of the final vote for taking a partisan approach in slamming the measure without any Republican input.
“The Senate has never spent $2 trillion in a more haphazard or less rigorous way,” McConnell said shortly before the final vote proceeded. “Democrats inherited a tide that is already turning.”
The $1.9 trillion package dubbed the American Rescue Plan provides direct payments of up to $1,400 to most Americans and extends emergency unemployment benefits for an additional week until Labor Day, but reduces the weekly jobless benefit amount back to $300, from the original $400 proposed in the House bill. It also adds new funding into COVID vaccine distribution and testing, rental assistance for struggling households, expansion of the child tax credit for one year, and $128 billion for schools reopening, with only 5 percent being devoted to the 2021 fiscal year.
The far-reaching measure cost nearly one-tenth the size of the entire U.S. economy. Non-COVID provisions in the package devotes $45 billion for Obamacare, one of the major deficit estimated to impact the economy by adding to the deficit, as well as $50 million in environmental justice grants; $270 million for Arts and Humanities national endowment programs; $570 million of 15 weeks of paid leave for federal employees who were apparently exposed to COVID; $200 million for the Institute of Museums and library services and $10 million to preserve and maintenance of “Native American languages.”
Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief package was able to pass through budget reconciliation, forgoing the 60 votes needed by being able to pass with only 51 votes. One measure of the reconciliation process allows for lawmakers to include amendments if voted in to be added to the legislation to amend the package. This process led to the Senate to commence in a dreaded “vote-a-rama” — a continuous series of votes on amendments just shortly before midnight Friday.
Senate Republicans introduced nearly 30 amendments during the late-night session that Democrats shot down nearly all by their slim majority. Vice President Kamala Harris was not needed to cast the tie-breaking vote due to one GOP Senator being absent, Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska who had a family emergency.
Republican amendments included, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) motion to tie school funding to reopening requirements. Sen. Tim Scott (R-FL) advocating for transparency for state nursing home investigations following the scandal in New York and Michigan. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-FL) amendment included preventing granting illegal immigrants a $1,400 stimulus check and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) proposed slimming down the $350 billion proposal for states bail-out noting that most states had better-than-expected revenues despite the pandemic and actually ran a big surplus.
Only a few amendments were adopted, including Sen. Maggie Hassan’s (D-NH) counter-proposal to Rubio’s measure that incentivizes schools before reopen in-person learning and Sen. Jerry Moran’s (R-KS) effort to strike a bipartisan deal protecting veterans’ educational benefits. After almost 13 hours of marathon votes of amendments, with the majority of those proposed by the Republican senators rejected, it ended around noon Saturday.
The Senate began its session Friday at 9 am ET, but hit a roadblock after Democratic leadership pressed pause to sort out a last-minute disagreement stalled the process for about 12 hours. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) appeared ready to join with Republicans over a disagreement within his party when he declined to back his party over unemployment aid, causing a stalemate for about 12 hours on Friday.
As a result, Democrats scrambled to appease Manchin by reworking the bill when they finally compromised to salvage the bill in changing the House proposal to keep the current jobless benefit federal boost at $300 per week through Sept. 6 and making the first $10,200 in assistance tax-free for those making under $150,000.
GOP lawmakers blasted the relief package during vote-o-rama in citing that only 10% is devoted to COVID relief while the rest is a Democratic wish list of wasteful spending dedicated to rewarding blue states in government bailout for their draconian measures. The package includes $350 billion in state and local aid to make up for lost tax revenue with a majority of the funding are given to states like New York and California. However, California and other states such as Virginia, Colorado, and Arizona in 2020 ended up collecting more than in 2019 of tax revenue, calling it “virtually flat” based on a J.P. Morgan survey.
Many Republicans also cited the stronger than expected February jobs report to argue against passing the $2 trillion stimulus. Fiscal conservatives noted that the national debt has raked up to nearly $28 trillion with 2020 seeing a deficit of $3.3 trillion, due mostly to many states continuing their lockdown measures.
Despite GOP opposition arguing the vaccination pace is helping to reopen the nation with many economists criticizing the scope of the package they said will inflate the economy, Democrats continued to push forward with invalid claims that this decisive action would prevent a sluggish recovery and future economic pain.
“We will end this terrible plague and we will travel again and send our kids to school again and be together again,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said just shortly before the vote. “Our job right now is to help our country get from this stormy present to that hopeful future.”
Schumer didn’t rule out another pandemic relief bill, telling reporters after the vote that if Americans “need more help, we’ll do another bill.”
Biden after the vote praised the Senate for passing it on Saturday, called the aid package “urgently needed” and promised to get “checks out the door” to Americans “this month.”
“Without a rescue plan, these gains are going to slow,” Biden said. “We can’t afford one step forward and two steps backwards.”
Before Biden can sign it into law, the amended Senate measure will have to be passed again by the House. After the vote, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said in a statement that the Democratic-held House aims to pass the Senate-passed legislation on Tuesday before the March 14 deadline to renew unemployment aid programs.