Senate Democrats passed President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan on Saturday afternoon in a 50-49 vote after a grueling all-night voting session, pushing the massive relief bill over a crucial hurdle on its way to becoming law over the objections of the Republican Party and setting up a major victory for Biden in the early days of his presidency.
The legislation will authorize hundreds of billions of dollars in federal spending for vaccine distribution and virus testing, hospitals, state and local governments, schools and small businesses to combat the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and offset its economic toll.
The bill includes a third round of stimulus checks in the amount of $1,400 for eligible individuals, another tranche of enhanced federal unemployment benefits of $300 per week, a major expansion of the child tax credit, tax relief for canceled student loan debt and billions of dollars for rental and food assistance.
Provisions like those, which are designed to provide direct aid to American families struggling to stay afloat amid the slowdown, prompted Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to predict that the legislation will be the “single largest anti-poverty bill in recent history.”
Republicans widely oppose the package: they say it is too expensive, describe it as unnecessary given the pace of economic recovery and object to provisions they view as unrelated to the coronavirus crisis.
Some economists and lawmakers have suggested the bill’s $1.9 trillion price tag could trigger dangerous inflation and destabilize the nascent economic recovery, but Biden’s White House and top Democrats have consistently said “big” spending is warranted given the sheer scale of the crisis.
During a brutal legislative process called a “vote-a-rama” that dragged for more than 24 hours on Friday and Saturday, Democrats defeated a slew of GOP amendments to the bill, including a bid to replace the entire package with a $650 billion version instead and attempts to bar undocumented immigrants and incarcerated individuals from receiving stimulus checks.
“This isn’t a pandemic rescue package,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Friday ahead of the vote-a-rama. “It’s a parade of left wing pet projects they are ramming through during a pandemic.”
9.5 million. That’s how many workers are still unemployed in the United States, according to data released Friday by the Labor Department, despite job growth that exceeded economists’ expectations in February.
Democrats used a special legislative process called budget reconciliation to pass the bill with only a simple majority of votes rather than the usual 60 required to overcome a filibuster in the Senate. Since Democrats hold exactly 50 seats in that chamber (with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking a tie in their favor), they could not afford to lose a single vote. That razor thin majority prompted changes to previous versions of the bill in order to appease moderates within the caucus. After hours of fraught negotiations on Friday, Democratic leaders cut a deal with Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a conservative Democrat, to scale back the next round of enhanced federal unemployment benefits to $300 per week through September 6 rather than the $400 per week supplement many Democrats favored. They also scaled back eligibility requirements for the $1,400 stimulus checks—a major concession to moderates like Manchin who want to prevent high earning families from receiving federal relief they don’t need and aren’t likely to spend.
A provision to raise the national minimum wage to $15 per hour over the next five years was removed from the Senate version because it did not qualify under budget reconciliation rules. An effort by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to add the wage hike back into the bill failed on Friday.
Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) was absent from the vote because of a family emergency, meaning that Vice President Kamala Harris did not need to break a tie on the bill’s final passage.
What To Watch For
The package will now be sent back to the House of Representatives so that chamber can approve the Senate’s changes. After that, President Biden will be able to sign the bill into law. Democratic leaders have repeatedly expressed confidence Biden will sign before March 14, when the enhanced federal unemployment insurance authorized by the last stimulus bill will expire and 11.4 million Americans will lose their benefits. If the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan is enacted, it will be the sixth federal rescue package signed into law since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States last year.
What We Don’t Know
Whether the changes the Senate made to the bill will imperil its final passage in the House, where progressives were already bristling over the Senate’s decision to strike the minimum wage hike from the package. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said the chamber will “absolutely” pass the package without the $15 minimum wage.
$1,400 Stimulus Check Calculator: Income Limits Lowered (Forbes Advisor)