Senate passes budget resolution toward $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill

U.S. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer speaks to reporters in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC.

Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

The Senate passed a budget resolution early Friday, moving toward passing a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill after a marathon of votes on dozens of amendments.

Democrats passed it 51-50 in the evenly split Senate, as Vice President Kamala Harris had to cast her first tiebreaking vote. The party line vote after about 15 hours of considering politically thorny amendments underscores the divide in Congress on how to structure the next aid package.

The House approved a budget measure on Wednesday. The chamber will have to vote again because the Senate passed a separate version.

“I am so thankful that our caucus stayed together in unity,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said after the vote. “We had no choice given the problems facing America and the desire to move forward. And we have moved forward.”

He contended “this was a bipartisan activity” because the chamber adopted several amendments written by senators from both parties.

Approval of a resolution will allow Democrats to forge ahead with the budget reconciliation process, which enables the party to pass a rescue package with no Republican votes. While President Joe Biden has said he hopes to win Republican support for the aid plan, Democrats have started to set up the framework to pass the proposal as soon as possible without GOP support.

Without using reconciliation, Democrats would have to win 10 Republicans over in a Senate split 50-50.

The budget resolution directs committees to write legislation reflecting Biden’s Covid relief package, while staying under the $1.9 trillion target. Democrats aim to pass, among other provisions:

  • $1,400 direct payments
  • A $400 per week jobless benefit through September
  • $350 billion in state, local and tribal government relief
  • A $20 billion national Covid vaccination program
  • $50 billion for virus testing
  • $170 billion for K-12 schools and higher education institutions
  • A $30 billion rent and utility assistance fund

Multiple amendments passed during the string of votes, though many were vague, and it was not clear how they would affect final legislation. They included a measure to prevent high-income people from getting stimulus checks, one to set up a grant program for restaurants and one to bar tax increases on small businesses during the pandemic.

An additional amendment that passed aims to prohibit undocumented immigrants from receiving direct payments.

A separate measure that failed — which targeted New York without naming it — would have limited funding to states under scrutiny for underreporting coronavirus deaths in nursing homes.

Democrats have contended they cannot afford to wait to pass a bill if talks with Republicans on a bipartisan plan do not yield a breakthrough. They have said nearly $2 trillion in spending is necessary to both rein in the pandemic and prevent future economic pain.

Republicans offered Biden a $618 billion counter proposal, arguing that Congress can limit additional spending after it passed a $900 billion aid bill in December. A group of GOP lawmakers who met with Biden on Monday sent him a letter Thursday, questioning the amount of school funding in his plan and praising him for considering lowering the income cap for stimulus checks.

Democrats hope to pass a relief package before March 14, when a $300 per week unemployment supplement approved in December expires.

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