Democrats Near the Finish Line on Covid Relief Bill

Democrats Near the Finish Line on Covid Relief Bill

Sipa USA

Democrats have two steps left in passing their $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill and delivering President Joe Biden his first major legislative win — a historically large, deficit-financed package that promises to send $1,400 direct payments to millions of Americans while expanding pandemic aid and a host of federal safety net and health care programs.

The Senate’s passage of the bill on Saturday in a 50-49, party-line vote sends the legislation back to the House, which is set to vote this week to approve the changes made on the other side of the Capitol. Democrats, with a narrow majority in the House, are expected to be able to pass the package and send it on to Biden’s desk for his signature. Democrats have been pressing get the aid bill signed into law ahead of the scheduled expiration of enhanced unemployment benefits on March 14.

Biden on Saturday called the Senate vote one “one more giant step forward” in delivering on his promise that help for the American people was on the way. “It obviously wasn’t easy, it wasn’t always pretty, but it was so desperately needed — urgently needed,” Biden said.

He dismissed concerns that progressives might be frustrated by some of the changes made by the Senate to ensure the support of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), a key centrist vote.

The Senate bill stripped out an increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. It also limited the number of people eligible for the so-called stimulus checks by having the payments phase out more quickly (see below for more). Under a compromise reached Friday, it also kept supplemental federal jobless benefits at $300 a week instead of raising them to $400, as the House bill had done. The benefits will last an extra week, through September 6, as part of the Senate change and the first $10,200 in unemployment payments this year won’t be taxable.

Read more about what’s in the bill here or here.

“I don’t think any of the compromises have in any way fundamentally altered the essence of what I put in the bill in the first place,” Biden said.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, similarly downplayed the changes in a statement Saturday. “Importantly, despite the fact that we believe any weakening of the House provisions were bad policy and bad politics, the reality is that the final amendments were relatively minor concessions,” she said. “The American Rescue Plan has retained its core bold, progressive elements originally proposed by President Joe Biden and passed in the House relief package.”

Republicans remained firm in their opposition to the package. “The Senate has never spent $2 trillion in a more haphazard way, or through a less rigorous process,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said in a speech before the final vote.

What you need to know about the $1,400 “stimulus checks”: Individuals earning less than $75,000 and couple making less than $150,000 are eligible for the full $1,400 relief payments, plus an additional $1,400 per dependent. The payments phase out completely for individuals who earn more than $80,000 a year and married couples earning more than $160,000. Payments would reach 86% of adults and 85% of children, including everyone in the bottom 60% of income earners, according to estimates from the left-leaning Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy. “People could start seeing the $1,400 stimulus payments hit their bank accounts within days of Biden signing the bill -- which is expected to happen soon after the House votes on Tuesday,” CNN says.

You can calculate how much you’ll get here.

The Senate sets a record: As we told you Friday, Senate consideration of the Covid package ran into a prolonged delay as Manchin held off on agreeing to a deal changing the details of the enhanced unemployment benefits in the bill. As Democrats worked to resolve the impasse, they held open a vote on an amendment to the package for 11 hours and 50 minutes, setting a new record for the longest vote in the chamber’s history. The final Senate vote came after some 25 hours of debate.

What’s next: Final passage of the American Rescue Plan is expected Tuesday or Wednesday, and Biden will deliver his first prime-time address to the nation on Thursday.