- The Senate approves a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill after a marathon series of votes.
- The 50-49 vote fell along party lines, and no Republican supported the legislation.
- Now the House will take up the relief plan sometime early next week.
- Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.
The Senate approved the $1.9 trillion stimulus legislation on Saturday morning, putting Democrats another step closer to locking down President Joe Biden’s first legislative achievement after a marathon period of voting. The economic aid package heads back to the House for final approval.
Republicans were united in their opposition in the 50-49 party-line vote. Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska was the lone Republican absent since he announced he had to fly home for a funeral on Friday.
The final vote ended a turbulent “vote-a-rama” that saw lawmakers bulldoze through at least 25 amendments into the morning hours. Senators of both parties wandered out of the chamber to stretch their legs, trying to stay awake.
Democrats fended off a barrage of proposed changes to the bill. Most of the amendments were put forward by Republicans who strongly oppose the legislation, arguing it’s too large and contains unrelated spending.
Sen. Susan Collins of Maine tried advancing a $650 billion relief plan to replace it. Then Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky sought to tighten eligibility for small business loans. Sen. Mitt Romney pushed to require state and local governments to apply for federal aid through the Treasury Department. Democrats defeated them.
The vote-a-rama got off to a rough start for Democrats after Sen. Joe Manchin’s resistance to a new plan for unemployment benefits forced last-minute changes to the legislation. It slammed proceedings to a halt for almost 11 hours while they ironed out their differences and cut a deal.
“Make no mistake: we are going to continue working until we get the job done,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said as the voting kicked off again.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell chastised Democrats for their handling of the bill. “My goodness. That was quite a start to this fast-track process,” he said. “This proves there are benefits to bipartisanship when you’re dealing with an issue of this magnitude.”
The new provision would reduce unemployment aid to $300-per-week until early September instead of a $400 supplement expiring at the end of that month. But it would provide tax relief on the first $10,200 in jobless payments for households earning up to $150,000.
The president appeared to be on course to sign the pandemic aid package into law within days. The legislation would provide $1,400 stimulus payments for most taxpayers; $300 weekly federal jobless aid through early September; fund vaccine distribution and testing; and provide significant assistance to state and local governments.
The House will take up the legislation sometime early next week. Speaker Nancy Pelosi already pledged that House Democrats would approve the Senate bill. They are dashing to enact the plan ahead of the March 14 expiration of enhanced unemployment insurance.
Still, Manchin’s opposition to one part of the sprawling relief package underscored the delicate state of the Democratic majority. His resistance halted all Senate activity, slowing down Congressional action on coronavirus relief for hours.
In the evenly-divided Senate, Democrats control the chamber due to the tie-breaking power of Vice President Kamala Harris. They opted to bypass Republicans using a tactic called reconciliation, a path to enact certain budgetary bills with a simple majority of 51 votes.
But the ideological cracks that emerged on Friday may foreshadow other difficulties Democrats could encounter as they move on other parts of their legislative agenda, including infrastructure, immigration, and voting rights.
“In a 50-50 Senate, every vote is precious,” Zach Moller, the deputy director of economic policy at Third Way, a centrist think-tank, told Insider. “If Democrats want to control the bill, they need to have unanimity in their party.”
The economy showed fresh signs of a recovery on Friday. The newest jobs report showed employers added 379,000 jobs in February, a significant improvement over the month before. But the economy remained nearly 9.5 million jobs below pre-pandemic levels.