House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Chairman Charles Schumer (D-NY) walk on Capitol Hill in Washington after a press conference about an agreement on a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) aid package, DC, USA December 20, 2020.
Ken Cedeno | Reuters
The Senate passed a $ 1.9 trillion coronavirus aid package on Saturday as Democrats rush to send out a new round of aid.
The Democratic House intends to pass the bill on Tuesday and send it to President Joe Biden for signature before the March 14th deadline for renewal of unemployment benefit programs. The Senate approved the plan in a vote of 50-49 parties when Republicans questioned the need for another major spending package.
The law provides for direct payments of up to $ 1,400 to most Americans, a $ 300 increase in unemployment benefits weekly through September, and an extension of the child tax credit for one year. It also provides new funding for Covid-19 vaccine distribution and testing, rental support for households in difficulty, and K-12 schools for reopening costs.
The approval of the Senate brings Biden's first legislative initiative closer to realization. While the GOP and some economists criticized the size of the bailout as the pace of vaccination increased in the US, Democrats said they needed decisive action to prevent a sluggish recovery and future economic problems.
"We're going to end this terrible plague and we're going to travel again and send our kids back to school and be together again," said Chuck Schumer, Senate majority leader, D-N.Y., prior to the vote. "Our job right now is to help our country move from this stormy present to this hopeful future."
The Senators passed the bill by budget vote, a process that did not require Republican support but any Democratic vote. Senate Democratic leaders had to grapple with varying forces within their caucus to gain unified support while trying to balance the need to keep nearly all House Democrats on board to pass the plan next week.
A disagreement within the party halted the process for about 12 hours on Friday. West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin declined to support his party's unemployment benefit proposal and sent leaders to find a compromise that could win his support and save the bill.
The Democrats decided to keep the current $ 300 per week increase in unemployment benefits through September 6, and to exempt the first $ 10,200 from tax. The proposal reduced the $ 400 weekly surcharge through August 29, which was passed in the House a week ago.
The change – plus a separate Senate decision to limit the number of people receiving stimulus checks – risked the wrath of progressives in the house. Biden was in favor of the unemployment agreement.
After the Senate vote, the President said the process was "not easy, not always beautiful, but so badly needed".
"This nation has suffered too much for far too long," he said. Biden estimates the direct payments of up to $ 1,400, which will also go to dependents of eligible Americans, will begin this month.
The bill was finally passed after a vote in which Senators considered dozens of changes to the package. The legislature, who sometimes dozed at his desks or put his head in his hands, voted on changes by Friday evening and until Saturday afternoon.
Republicans cast symbolic political votes, including failed changes to ban direct payments to prison inmates or limit aid levels to states that falsely reported nursing home deaths from Covid-19 (which targeted New York).
The GOP lambasted the aid package, describing it as a lavish list of democratic priorities. Common targets included $ 350 billion in state, local, and tribal aid and $ 170 billion for K-12 schools and higher education.
"This is not a pandemic rescue package. It's a parade of left pet projects they go through during a pandemic," Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Said Friday.
McConnell and others cited a stronger-than-expected February job report as arguing that the U.S. doesn't need nearly $ 2 trillion more in incentives. Nevertheless, around 8.5 million fewer people were employed in the USA than in the previous year.
Biden referred to the need to keep the recovery going – along with the millions who could lose unemployment benefits without renewing pandemic-era programs – when advocating the relief bill on Friday.
"Without a bailout plan, those gains will slow," he said. "We cannot afford to take a step forward or two steps back."
Proponents of the law also pointed to its potential for combating child poverty.
House majority leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., Said Saturday that the House plans to approve the Senate version of the bill on Tuesday. The Democrats didn't win Republican support in the House of Representatives last week when they passed similar laws.
Still, House spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Hoped for GOP support in a statement following the Senate's approval of the plan.
"The House is now hoping for a bipartisan vote on this life-saving legislation and urges Republicans to join us in recognizing the devastating reality of this vicious virus and economic crisis and the need for decisive action," she said.
After incorporating the bailout plan into law, Biden is expected to move ahead with his economic recovery and infrastructure proposal. Nevertheless, Schumer did not rule out another pandemic bill if the economic conditions indicate needy areas.
"If they need more help, we'll do another bill," he told reporters.
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