Senate Democrats have passed President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 spending bill with zero support from the Republicans with a margin of 50-49 over an intraparty standoff over unemployment benefits.
The bill was passed through the Senate after a session that lasted an entire day from Friday night into Saturday. It faced delays after a Republican lawmaker insisted that the massive bill be read before the Senate before the vote.
The revised legislation is expected to provide $300 in weekly unemployment benefits through Sept. 6, down from the initially proposed $400, and send $1,400 in direct payments to fewer Americans than the bill that almost made its way to Trump. It will also direct $350 billion to state and local governments, fund $1.9 billion in vaccine distribution, and expand the child tax credit. A portion of the funds will also be directed towards rental assistance and reopening costs for K-12 schools.
The proceedings were delayed after Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, refused to support a Democrat proposal to extend federal jobless benefits until October 4, 2021. Following hours of negotiations, the Democrats agreed to extend the current $300 weekly benefits through September 6 and make the first $10,200 nontaxable for some households.
“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-N.Y., said before the vote. “Our job right now is to help our country get from this stormy present to that hopeful future.”
Democrat senators were able to pass the bill through budget reconciliation, which requires no Republican support but every Democrats to vote in favor. Senate Democrats had to negotiate within their own party to make sure the bill passed, as highlighted by Manchin’s refusal to back his party’s proposal for unemployment aid. His efforts stalled the process for 12 hours on Friday. The negotiations also limited the number of people eligible to receive the stimulus package.
The Republicans described the bill as a wasteful list of Democrat priorities, which includes the bill’s $350 for state, local, and tribal aid, as well as its $170 billion in K-12 and higher education costs.
“This isn’t a pandemic rescue package. It’s a parade of left-wing pet projects that they are ramming through during a pandemic,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Friday.
The package now returns to the House, which must approve Senate-revised legislation before sending it to the White House for Biden’s signature. The House is expected to take it up next week. The House will have the option to either pass it as-is or enter a conference committee with the other chamber to negotiate a different deal more favorable to progressives in the House.
The Democrats hope to have the bill ready on Biden’s desk before unemployment aid benefits expire on March 14.