Democrats push Biden’s $1.9-T COVID 2019 bill through Senate

REUTERS

WASHINGTON — The US Senate on Saturday passed President Joseph R. Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan in a party-line vote after an all-night session that was delayed repeatedly as the Republican minority tried but failed to push through around three dozen amendments.

The plan passed in a 50-49 vote with the support of every Democrat but no Republicans. It is one of the largest stimulus bills in US history and gives Mr. Biden his first major legislative victory since taking office in January.

The partisan victory was made possible by Democrats winning two Senate seats in Georgia special elections in January, giving them narrow control of the chamber.

Mr. Biden said on Saturday he hoped for quick passage of the revised bill by the House of Representatives so he could sign it and start sending $1,400 direct payments to Americans.

“This plan will get checks out the door starting this month to the American people, who so desperately need the help,” Mr. Biden said at the White House after the vote.

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The final bill includes $400 billion in one-time payments of $1,400 to many Americans, with a phase-out starting for those with annual incomes above $75,000.

It also includes $300 a week in extended jobless benefits for the 9.5 million people thrown out of work in the crisis.

Democrats agreed to reduce those benefits from $400 a week in order to secure passage in the Senate. They want the bill signed into law before current unemployment benefits expire on Mar. 15.

About $350 billion in aid was also set aside for state and local governments that have seen the pandemic blow a hole in their budgets.

House of Representatives Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said on Twitter that the House will vote Tuesday on the Senate-passed bill.

Democrats broke out in applause amid passage of the bill in the Senate on Saturday and liberal independent Senator Bernie Sanders fist-bumped Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Mr. Schumer said the bill would help the country get the upper hand against a pandemic that has killed more than 520,000 people across the United States and upended most aspects of daily life.

“I want the American people to know that we’re going to get through this and someday soon our businesses will reopen, our economy will reopen and life will reopen,” Mr. Schumer said.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, however, had harsh words about the measure. “The Senate has never spent $2 trillion in a more haphazard way or through a less rigorous process,” he said.

Republicans had sought a new round of aid about one-third the size of Mr. Biden’s plan.

Mr. McConnell argued that even without this legislation, “2021 is already set to be our comeback year” because of relief bills enacted last year.

The measure comes as an increasing number of states have relaxed restrictions designed to curb the pandemic.

Texas earlier this week allowed most businesses to operate at full capacity and California saying it would soon allow Disneyland and other theme parks as well as sports stadiums to reopen at limited capacity.

But even as more and more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19, top infectious disease official Dr. Anthony Fauci has said that “now is not the time to pull back.” — Reuters

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