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Senate passes $1.9 trillion Covid relief plan

   March 6, 2021 6:02 PM
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by Aubra Salt - The Oregon Herald




 
PANDEMIC Covid relief plan passes
 
On Saturday, the Senate finally passed the $1.9 trillion Covid relief plan after an all-night session to get one stubborn Democrat to support the plan.

The Democratic-held House should pass the bill on Tuesday then send it to President Joe Biden before the March 14 deadline to renew unemployment aid programs. The Senate approved the plan in a 50-49 party line vote as Republicans questioned the need for another broad spending package.

The plan includes direct payments of up to $1,400 to most Americans, a $300 weekly boost to jobless benefits into September and an expansion of the child tax credit for one year. It also puts new funding into Covid-19 vaccine distribution and testing, rental assistance for struggling households and K-12 schools for reopening costs.

Individuals earning up to $75,000 and couples earning up to $150,000 would receive the full direct payments of $1,400 per person. But those payments would phase out for individuals and couples who make more than $80,000 and $160,000, respectively.

The vote was 50 to 49 and the House will vote Tuesday on the bill to approve changes made in the Senate, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced, and then it will go to Biden to be signed into law.

The package also includes $14 billion in payroll support for U.S. airlines, the third round of federal aid for the industry, in exchange for not furloughing or cutting workers' pay rates through Sept. 30. Airline contractors were set aside $1 billion.

Biden hailed the Senate passage in remarks from the White House Saturday afternoon, touting his plan's widespread public support even if it didn't earn any Republican votes.

Senators passed the bill through budget reconciliation, a process that required no Republican support but every Democratic vote. Senate Democratic leaders had to wrangle disparate forces within their caucus to win unified support while trying to balance the need to keep nearly all House Democrats on board to pass the plan next week.

"By passing this plan, we'll have proved that this government, this democracy, can still work. It has to be done. It will improve people's lives," Biden said.

And Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer defended the relief bill's passage along party lines, saying it showed the Republicans that they could do it alone.

But Democrats have faced fierce pressure to stay united to pass the administration's top legislative priority before March 14, when jobless benefits are set to expire for millions of Americans. West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin's unexpected opposition on Friday to a Democratic deal boosting unemployment benefits ground the Senate to a halt, prompting a furious lobbying effort between the two parties.

Democrats kept a Senate roll call vote open for 11 hours and 50 minutes, the longest in recent history, as Manchin signaled he would accept the Republicans' less generous proposal.

The dispute was a sign of the centrist Democrat's power in the 50-50 Senate, where Democrats control the narrowest possible majority, and an example of how a single senator can derail the President's agenda.

After a long negotiation Friday evening, and with a flurry of other amendments to consider, Manchin finally agreed to extend $300 weekly unemployment benefits through September 6, about a month earlier than what Democrats had envisioned. The West Virginia Democrat also limited a provision to make the first $10,200 in benefits nontaxable apply only to households making less than $150,000.

"We have reached a compromise that enables the economy to rebound quickly while also protecting those receiving unemployment benefits from being hit with unexpected tax bills next year," said Manchin in a statement.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday evening that Biden "supports the compromise agreement, and is grateful to all the Senators who worked so hard to reach this outcome."