The Senate voted 50-49 to pass Democrats’ $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package on Saturday, after a marathon session of voting on various amendments.
The bill was passed via budget reconciliation rules, which allow a simple majority to approve legislation in place of a filibuster-proof 60-vote threshold. The Biden administration had been pushing to pass the legislation before the week of March 14, when pandemic-related federal unemployment assistance is scheduled to expire.
The vote occurred entirely on partisan lines. Senator Dan Sullivan (R., Alaska) returned to his home state on Friday to attend the funeral of his father-in-law, meaning Vice President Kamala Harris did not need to cast a tie-breaking vote.
“This bill will deliver more help to more people than anything the federal government has done in decades,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) said just before the final vote. “It is broader, deeper and more comprehensive in helping working families and lifting people out of poverty than anything Congress has seen or accomplished in a very long time.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) criticized the bill and its passage.
“The Senate has never spent $2 trillion in a more haphazard way or through a less rigorous process,” McConnell said.
The legislation will now be returned to the House, which must approve the Senate’s version of the bill in order to send it to President Biden’s desk.
The bill contains $1,400 checks for Americans making less than $75,000 a year, while married couples making $150,000 or less will receive two checks. Payments are phased out for individuals making $80,000 and married couples making $160,000.
The package includes $130 billion in funds for K-12 schools, intended to help districts reduce class sizes to accommodate social distancing, improve ventilation systems, and make other changes. One measure introduced by Senator Maggie Hassan (D., N.H.) requires schools that receive funding to provide reopening plans within 30 days. However, the relief bill does not mandate that schools reopen for in-person learning.
The bill also provides $350 billion to state and local governments, in measures Republicans have criticized as “blue-state bailouts.”
Federal unemployment benefits will continue at $300 per week until September 6 under the legislation. House Democrats had attempted to raise unemployment assistance to $400 per week until October, but that plan was scrapped following objections by Senator Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.).
Meanwhile several Democrats, including Manchin and Arizona senator Kyrsten Sinema, helped vote down a proposal by Senator Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.
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