Senate advances Democrats’ Covid-19 aid bill

Republicans can’t stop Democrats from passing the legislation, but they plan to delay the timeline. Senator Ron Johnson (R., Wisconsin) forced Senate staff to read the 628-page bill aloud, which is expected to take several hours. After the reading, the Senate will conduct hours of debate and a series of amendment votes known as “vote-a-rama”.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., NY) said the Senate will complete the bill this week “however long it takes.”

The 50 Democrats gathered in the procedural vote, confirming the party has rallied around the broad relief plan, while the 50 Republicans opposed. Vice president

Kamala harris

broke the tie in favor of the Democrats.

The legislation would send a direct check for $ 1,400 to many Americans, provide $ 350 billion to state and local governments, fund vaccine distribution, and expand the child tax credit, among other measures.

Democrats use a legislative procedure called reconciliation which allows them to approve legislation by a simple majority in the Senate, with the aim of approving the legislation before the federal unemployment assistance forms expire on March 14. Reconciliation also creates the tedious amendment process that could push the approval of the bill until the weekend. .

While the House adopted the bill Senate Democrats made a number of changes to it last week. After its passage in the Senate, the House will then need to approve the updated version of the bill before it is forwarded to President Biden for signature.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer arriving at the United States Capitol Thursday.


Stefani Reynolds / Bloomberg News

Senators have narrowed down the group of Americans who will receive direct payments following a push from a group of centrist Democrats. People earning less than $ 75,000 and married couples earning less than $ 150,000 will still receive the full payment of $ 1,400, but the payment amount will decline more quickly for those with higher incomes. The payout will reach zero for people earning $ 80,000 and couples earning $ 160,000 – down from previous limits of $ 100,000 for individuals and $ 200,000 for couples.

Senate Democrats added a provision that would make much of the forgiveness of student loans income tax exempt, creating a 2021-2025 exception to the normal rule that forgiveness is income.

Democrats in Senate to remove measure increase the minimum wage to $ 15 an hour by 2025, it was in the bill that the House had approved. Senate rules limit what lawmakers can approve through reconciliation, and the non-partisan chamber parliamentarian found that the minimum wage increase could not be included in the relief bill.

Other measures in the bill that some Democrats had sought to change, including a weekly unemployment assistance supplement of $ 400, are expected to remain the same as in House legislation.

Republicans have largely aligned to oppose the legislation, attacking many of its measures, including aid to state and local governments, as unnecessary and unnecessary.

“It has nothing to do with the economy. It has everything to do with just throwing a big pile of money at financially irresponsible states, ”said Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) Of state and local aid.

Democrats said the legislation was needed to get the country through the pandemic, indicating polls showing popular support.

“There is tremendous support for these arrangements on both sides of the aisle in the country,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.), Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

Other changes made by Democrats in the Senate include increasing the amount of healthcare subsidies for laid-off workers, covering 100% of the health insurance premiums people pay on Cobra, compared to the 85% provided to the Bedroom.

Democrats also overhauled the tax provisions of the bill. They removed a House proposal that would have frozen the growth of annual limits on contributions to retirement accounts after 2030. They replaced it with stricter limits on corporate deductions for executive compensation – but only from then on. from 2027.

Senators also provide $ 8.5 billion to rural health care providers and set aside $ 10 billion in state and local aid for infrastructure projects. For state and local aid, senators demand that individual states receive at least as much as they did from a previous aid program and allow governments to use the funds for economic stimulus efforts. . They also set rules for how the funds can be used, prohibiting states from using aid for pensions or funding tax cuts.

Some centrist Democrats had sought to send some state and local funding to expand broadband access, but the effort ran into the limits of reconciliation, people familiar with the matter said, preventing them from targeting funding too closely. Instead, lawmakers have targeted the $ 10 billion towards infrastructure in general.

Write to Andrew Duehren at [email protected] and Richard Rubin at [email protected]

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