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As the Senate approves a $1.9 trillion virus relief package, Biden and the Democrats triumph.

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As the Senate approves a $1.9 trillion virus relief package, Biden and the Democrats triumph.

 

President Joe Biden and his Democratic allies scored a critical win in lifting the nation out of the pandemic and economic doldrums by narrowly passing the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill on Saturday.

Senators endorsed the sprawling package on a 50-49 party-line vote after working all night on a mountain of amendments, almost all of which came from Republicans and were defeated. This ensures that the bill receives final House approval next week, allowing lawmakers to rush it to Biden for signature.

The massive bill, whose expense is nearly a tenth of the entire US economy, is Biden’s top priority right now. It’s his formula for dealing with the deadly virus and the country’s stumbling economy, two problems that have plagued the country for a year.

After the vote, Biden told reporters at the White House, “This country has suffered much too much for much too long.” “So all in this package is built to alleviate poverty and address the nation’s most pressing needs, putting us in a stronger place to win.”

Saturday’s vote was also a pivotal political moment for Biden and the Democrats, who need party unanimity to win a 50-50 Senate with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tiebreaker. They have a 10-vote House advantage.

No Republican voted for the bill in the Senate or when it first passed the House, highlighting the acrimonious partisanship that has dominated Biden’s presidency so far.

A small but influential group of moderate Democrats exploited changes in the bill that enraged progressives, making it difficult for Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to get the bill through the House. Democrats, on the other hand, could not afford to refuse their first signature bill because they are in charge of Congress for the next two years and have no space for error.

The chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which represents about 100 House liberals, called the Senate’s weakening of certain provisions “bad policy and bad politics,” but added that they were “relatively small compromises.” Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, said the bill’s “core bold, progressive elements” were preserved.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said of the House, “They sound like we do, we have to get this done.” “It won’t be everything anyone wants,” he said. “There is no bill.”

Pelosi called on Republicans to “join us in acknowledgment of the destructive reality of this vicious virus and economic crisis, and of the need for immediate action” in a written statement.

Many Americans will receive cash payments of up to $1,400, and emergency unemployment benefits will be extended. There are large sums of money set aside for COVID-19 vaccinations and research, states and towns, colleges, and struggling sectors, as well as tax cuts for low-income individuals, families with children, and customers purchasing health insurance.

Republicans have criticized the bill as a needless spending spree for Democrats’ liberal allies that ignores recent signs that the pandemic and economy are improving.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, said, “The Senate has never spent $2 trillion in a more haphazard way.” Democrats’ “top priority” was not pandemic relief, he said. It was their wish list for Washington.”

The Senate began a dreaded “vote-a-rama” — a continuous sequence of amendment votes — shortly before midnight Friday, and had completed about three dozen by noon. Since 9 a.m. EST on Friday, the Senate has been in session.

Overnight, the chamber resembled a sleep deprivation laboratory. Several legislators seemed to close their eyes or doze off at their desks, their faces buried in their laps. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, one of the younger senators at 48, trotted into the chamber and stretched for a long time.

Senator Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, was unable to vote because he was attending his father-in-funeral. law’s

The bill follows five others passed since last spring, totaling around $4 trillion, and comes amid signs of a possible turnaround.

Vaccine stocks are increasing, deaths and caseloads have decreased but remain alarmingly high, and hiring was remarkably strong last month, despite the economy still being 10 million workers smaller than it was before the pandemic.

The Senate package was constantly postponed as Democrats made last-minute adjustments to balance the conflicting demands of their moderate and progressive groups.

Work on the bill came to a halt on Friday after a deal among Democrats to extend emergency unemployment insurance appeared to fall apart. Top Democrats and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, possibly the chamber’s most conservative Democrat, announced a compromise nearly 12 hours later, and the Senate approved it 50-49 on a party-line vote.

Under their agreement, $300 weekly emergency unemployment checks will be renewed, on top of daily state benefits, with a final payout on Sept. 6. There will also be tax cuts on some of the funding, assisting citizens who were suddenly laid off due to the pandemic and faced tax penalties on their benefits.

The House relief bill, which was almost identical to the Senate bill, included $400 weekly benefits until August. The new weekly payments of $300 are set to expire on March 14, and Democrats want a bill on Biden’s desk by then to avoid a lapse.

Most Democrats and several economists oppose Manchin’s and Republicans’ argument that higher unemployment benefits deter people from returning to work.

The compromise on unemployment insurance wasn’t the only sign of the moderates’ strength.

Progressives suffered a significant setback on Friday when the Senate voted to reject a House-approved increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025. Eight Democrats voted against the raise, implying that Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and other liberals vowing to keep fighting would face a tough battle.

Many Americans would be ineligible for the $1,400 stimulus checks, according to party leaders. Under the Senate bill, the number will be steadily decreased until it hits zero for individuals earning $80,000 and couples earning $160,000. In the House edition, the ceilings were higher.

Many of the GOP proposals that were defeated were either efforts to compel Democrats to vote in politically unpopular ways or attempts by Republicans to express their zeal for issues that matter to their constituents.

Efforts to ban funds from going to schools that don’t reopen their doors or to allow transgender students born male to play in female sports were both defeated. One provision would have barred federal funding from going to so-called sanctuary cities, where municipal governments refuse to assist federal agents in apprehending illegal immigrants.

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