The Senate passed on Saturday a bill to allocate a $ 1.9 trillion financial aid package for the coronavirus pandemic.
The Democratic House of Representatives is set to pass the bill on Tuesday and send it to President Joe Biden for signature by March 14, the deadline for resuming unemployment assistance programs. The Senate approved the plan with a 50 to 49 party line vote as Republicans again questioned the need for another massive spending package.
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The law provides for direct payments of up to $ 1,400 to most Americans, a $ 300 weekly increase in unemployment benefits through September, and an extension of the child tax credit for one year. Funding will also be allocated to distribute and test the Covid-19 vaccine, help rent out to needy households and K-12 schools to cover opening costs.
The package also includes $ 14 billion in payroll support for U.S. airlines in exchange for waiving layoffs or lowering workers’ pay rates until September 30. Airline contractors will be allocated $ 1 billion.
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The House of Representatives bill also included a measure to raise the minimum wage to $ 15 an hour, which the Senate rejected.
Senate approval of the stimulus package brings Biden’s first major legislative initiative closer to implementation. While the GOP and some economists have criticized the scale of the bailout package as the pace of US vaccinations has picked up decently, Democrats said they needed decisive action to stave off a sluggish recovery and future economic problems.
“We will end this terrible plague, and we will travel again, send our children to school again and be together again,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York State ahead of the vote . “Our job right now is to help our country move from this stormy present to a hopeful future.”
Senators passed the bill by agreeing on the budget, which required not the support of the Republicans, but the vote of each of the Democrats. Senate Democratic leaders have had to grapple with scattered forces within their factional assembly to garner unified support, balancing the need to keep nearly all Democrats in the House of Representatives to pass the plan next week.
Disagreements within the party stalled the process by about 12 hours on Friday. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia refused to back his party’s offer of unemployment bailouts, forcing leaders to go to great lengths to find a compromise that could persuade him to support the initiative and save the law.
The Democrats decided to keep the current $ 300 a week increase in unemployment benefits until September 6, while making the first $ 10,200 in aid tax-free. A proposal to reduce the weekly co-payment of $ 400 through August 29 was passed by the House of Representatives a week ago.
This change, plus a separate Senate decision to limit the number of people who can qualify for stimulus checks, risked the ire of “progressives” in the House of Representatives. Biden approved the unemployment deal.
After the Senate vote, the president said the process “was not easy, it was not always beautiful, but it was urgently needed.”
“This nation has suffered too much and for a long time,” he said. Biden estimates that direct payments of up to $ 1,400 will begin this month, which will also go to dependents of eligible Americans.
The final adoption of the bill followed a vote in which senators considered dozens of amendments to the economic aid package. Legislators voted on the changes by Friday evening and Saturday afternoon.
Republicans supported a symbolic political vote, including unsuccessful amendments to ban direct payments to prisoners or to limit aid to local state governments that falsely reported deaths in nursing homes due to Covid-19.
The GOP criticized the aid package, calling it a wasteful list of democratic wants and priorities. The private goals of this bill were $ 350 billion in aid to states, communities and tribal governments, as well as $ 170 billion in K-12 schools and higher education.
“This is not a pandemic rescue package. This is a parade of the left’s favorite projects that they are pushing during the pandemic, ”said Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell on Friday .
McConnell and others cited a stronger-than-expected February employment report, arguing that the US shouldn’t need to spend nearly $ 2 trillion more on stimulus. Despite this, the United States employed about 8.5 million fewer people than the previous year.
McConnell argued that even without this law, “2021 will already be the year of our return” due to aid bills passed last year.
An increasing number of states are easing restrictions aimed at containing the coronavirus pandemic. Earlier this week, Texas allowed most businesses to operate at full capacity, and California said it would soon allow Disneyland and other theme parks and sports stadiums to resume operations with limited capacity. But even as more and more Americans are receiving vaccines for COVID-19, Chief Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Anthony Fauci said “now is not the time to back down.”
Biden, in his argument for the bailout bill on Friday, cited the need to support the recovery of millions of American citizens who could lose unemployment benefits without resuming pandemic-era programs.
“Without a plan of salvation, these gains will slow down,” he said. “We cannot afford to take one step forward and two steps back.”
Supporters of the bill also touted its potential to reduce child poverty.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer , M.D. , said Saturday that the House of Representatives plans to approve the Senate version of the bill on Tuesday. Democrats failed to enlist Republican support in the House of Representatives last week when they passed similar legislation.
However, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi expressed hope for GOP support in a statement following the Senate’s adoption of the economic aid plan.
“The House of Representatives now hopes to hold a bipartisan vote on this vital bill and calls on Republicans to join us,” she said.
After the president signs the bailout plan law, Biden is expected to begin implementing his proposal to rebuild the economy and build infrastructure. However, Schumer did not rule out another pandemic bill if economic conditions show that it is necessary.
“If they need more help, we will introduce another bill,” he told reporters.