Senate set to debate $1.9T COVID-19 relief bill

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WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — The Senate voted to advance President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package Thursday night with the start of debate postponed by the reading of the full 628-page bill.

Vice President Kamala Harris broke the 50-50 tie in the Senate to advance the bill. Republican Senator Ron Johnson briefly objected to the vote, which forced the chamber’s clerks to read the entire 628-page measure aloud into the early hours of Friday.

Now, the debate can begin with 20 hours of debate and amendments before a final vote on the Senate’s version of the bill. The Senate is expected to reconvene Friday at 9 a.m. EST.

The American Rescue Plan Act will then go back to the House for another vote on the Senate’s version of the plan.

“The time is now to move forward with big, bold, strong relief for the American people,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said before the vote.

Biden’s virus relief package would provide funding for vaccines and medical supplies, extend jobless assistance and offer a new round of emergency financial aid to households, small businesses and state and local governments.

Democratic senators said Thursday that they had modified the package to steer more aid to smaller states, a move that’s likely to please those who represent sparsely populated states like Vermont.

Biden and Democrats reached a compromise Wednesday to tighten the bill’s upper-income limits at which people could qualify for stimulus checks. Under the agreement, those checks would end for individuals making $80,000 and couples earning $160,000.

The version the House approved last Saturday would gradually phase down those amounts and reach zero for individuals making $100,000 and couples earning $200,000.

The compromise means that 9 million fewer households will receive a stimulus payment than in the last round of payouts in 2020.

Another provision sought by the Biden administration – a raise to the federal minimum wage – was dropped after the Senate parliamentarian ruled last week it could not be included.

Under former President Trump, the then-Republican-controlled Senate passed several massive coronavirus relief packages. However, Republican senators are balking at the price tag of Biden’s bill.

In a speech on the floor of the Senate on Wednesday, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell called the bill a “vast catalog of liberal spending” packed with “crazy provisions” unrelated to the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 518,000 Americans and left millions jobless.

“Instead of heading into a dark tunnel, we’re accelerating out of it,” said McConnell.

But Democrats hope Biden can sign it into law before March 14, when some of the current benefits run out.

“This is not a liberal wish list,” said Schumer. “This is an American wish list. When people want checks to help them get out of the morass, that’s not a liberal wish list. That’s what the American people want.”

In the Senate, bills usually require the support of 60 senators. But the coronavirus relief bill is being advanced under a legislative maneuver known as reconciliation that allows passage with a simple majority vote.

The 48 Senate Democrats and the two independents who caucus with them control 50 seats, exactly half the 100-seat chamber, but Vice President Kamala Harris, a Democrat, can cast votes to break ties.

The House had been scheduled to debate and vote on a police reform bill Thursday, but House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced all of the chamber’s votes would be canceled for the remainder of the week. A Democratic aide said plans changed due in part to the warning from the U.S. Capitol Police Department, which obtained intelligence that “an identified militia group” could present a security threat on Thursday.

The day drew attention from far-right conspiracy theorists who’ve falsely claimed that former President Donald Trump, who was defeated by Biden in the Nov. 3 election, will be sworn in for a second term Thursday. March 4 was the original presidential inauguration day until 1933, when it was moved to Jan. 20.

Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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April 22 2021 09:00 am