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US Senate Narrowly Passes $1.9 Trillion COVID Relief Bill

Voice of America
6 Mar 2021

The U.S. Senate passed a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill Saturday after a lengthy session to make a series of late changes to shore up support from Democratic Party members.

Passage of the bill in the Senate puts President Joe Biden a step closer to his first major legislative victory since entering office on January 20. The measure now must go back to the House of Representatives for an additional vote.

The bill was approved by a 50-49 vote in the 100-member Senate, with not a single Republican voting for the measure.

Passage came after Democrats and Republicans were deadlocked for hours over competing proposals to increase weekly jobless benefits for those adversely affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Democrats managed to overcome the hurdle by reaching a deal with moderate Democrat Joe Manchin late Friday on an unemployment compensation provision in the bill after hours of negotiations. Democrats reduced the proposed $400 weekly emergency unemployment benefits to $300 a week and included a tax break for most people receiving unemployment to win Manchin's support.

The White House says President Joe Biden supports the compromise agreement on unemployment benefits.

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Republicans had also tried to win support from Manchin for their own unemployment insurance proposals, leading to a nine-hour logjam Friday that stalled action on the bill.

Democratic leaders in the Senate had to walk a fine line to win the support of both moderates, like Manchin, who wanted to rein in the costs of the bill, and progressives who wanted to include more government spending in the legislation. They also could not have afforded to lose the support of Democrats in the House, who passed their own version of the legislation last month and control that chamber by a mere 10 votes.

Earlier in the week, Senate Democrats and President Joe Biden agreed in a concession to moderates to tighten the eligibility for a proposal to send most Americans direct payments of $1,400. The new provision completely phases out the payments for individuals who earn more than $80,000, far lower than the amount outlined in the House bill.

In addition to the direct payments, the relief legislation also provides money for COVID-19 vaccines and testing, aid to state and local governments, and helps business sectors hurt by the pandemic's economic fallout, such as the restaurant and airline industries. It also provides tax breaks to lower wage earners and families with children and gives financial aid to small businesses.

Democrats argue the measures are needed to revive the economy and to fight the COVID-19 pandemic that has claimed more than 522,000 lives in the United States. Republicans, who largely backed previous COVID-19 spending, say another $1.9 trillion is simply too expensive.

A federal minimum hourly wage increases from $7.25 to $15 proposed by Democrats was dropped from the Senate bill after the parliamentarian in the Senate -- the chamber's adviser on the interpretation of its rules and procedures -- said the proposal did not meet special chamber rules governing debate.

Senator Bernie Sanders proposed an amendment to the relief bill Friday to add the wage hike back into the legislation, but it fell far short of the 60 votes needed to overrule the Senate parliamentarian's decision. Senators voted 58-42 against the increase, with eight Democrats voting against the proposal.

Democrats have pledged to continue working for a minimum wage increase in legislation separate from the COVID-19 aid bill.

Democrats pushed the relief bill through the Senate under special rules that bypass the traditional filibuster, which requires 60 votes to move legislation forward. Under the special rules, Democrats did not need any Republican votes.

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