The Senate approves a $1.9 trillion stimulus package, drawing another step closer to final passage after turbulent stretch of voting

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The Senate approves a $1.9 trillion stimulus package, drawing another step closer to final passage after turbulent stretch of voting
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.Alex Wong/Getty Images
  • The Senate approves a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill after a marathon series of votes.
  • The 50-49 vote fell along party lines, and no Republican supported the legislation.
  • Now the House will take up the relief plan sometime early next week.

The Senate approved the $1.9 trillion stimulus legislation on Saturday morning, putting Democrats another step closer to locking down President Joe Biden's first legislative achievement after a marathon day of voting. The economic aid package, set to be among the largest in American history, heads back to the House for final approval.

Republicans united to oppose the measure in a 50-49 party-line vote. Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska was the lone Republican absent since he announced he had to fly home for a funeral on Friday.

It capped a turbulent "vote-a-rama" that saw lawmakers bulldoze through dozens of amendments into the morning hours. Senators of both parties wandered out of the chamber to stretch their legs, trying to stay awake.

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The legislation appeared to be on course to reach Biden's desk within the next two weeks. It would provide $1,400 stimulus payments for most taxpayers; $300 weekly federal jobless aid through early September; fund vaccine distribution and testing; expand the child tax credit; and distribute money for state and local governments.

"This nation has suffered too much for much too long," Biden said on Saturday afternoon. "And everything in this package is designed to relieve the suffering and to meet the most urgent needs of the nation and put us in a better position to prevail."

Democrats fended off a barrage of proposed changes to the bill. Most of the amendments were put forward by Republicans who strongly object to the legislation, arguing it's too large and contains unrelated spending.

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The GOP sought to tighten eligibility for small business loans, impose stricter requirements for state and local governments to receive aid, and substitute the relief plan with another that was a third of its size. Democrats defeated them.

Republicans also criticized Biden for breaking campaign promises of fostering a new era of bipartisanship in Washington. Democrats didn't need their support to approve the aid plan.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer praised the bill's passage. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, chair of the Senate Budget Committee, called it "the most significant piece of legislation to benefit working families in the modern history of this country."

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Yet the vote-a-rama got off to a rough start for Democrats after Sen. Joe Manchin's resistance to a new plan for unemployment benefits forced last-minute changes to the legislation. It slammed proceedings to a halt for almost 11 hours while they ironed out their differences and cut a deal.

"Make no mistake: we are going to continue working until we get the job done," Schumer said as the voting kicked off again.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell chastised Democrats for their handling of the bill. "My goodness. That was quite a start to this fast-track process," he said. "This proves there are benefits to bipartisanship when you're dealing with an issue of this magnitude."

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The new provision would reduce unemployment aid to $300-per-week until early September instead of a $400 supplement expiring at the end of that month. But it would provide tax relief on the first $10,200 in jobless payments for households earning up to $150,000.

Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, told Insider on Friday evening the measure would still assist jobless Americans. "This is the longest extension of benefits that was possible tonight," he said. "This is the best that can be done for people who are hurting now," Wyden said.

House Democrats will take the bill up on Tuesday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said in a statement.

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Speaker Nancy Pelosi already pledged that House Democrats would approve the Senate bill. They are dashing to enact the plan ahead of the March 14 expiration of enhanced unemployment insurance.

Manchin's opposition to one part of the sprawling relief package underscored the delicate state of the Democratic majority. His resistance halted all Senate activity, slowing down Congressional action on coronavirus relief for hours.

In the evenly-divided Senate, Democrats control the chamber due to the tie-breaking power of Vice President Kamala Harris. They opted to bypass Republicans using a tactic called reconciliation, a path to enact certain budgetary bills with a simple majority of 51 votes.

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But the emerging ideological cracks may foreshadow major hurdles for Democrats as they move onto other parts of their legislative agenda, including infrastructure, immigration, and voting rights.

"In a 50-50 Senate, every vote is precious," Zach Moller, the deputy director of economic policy at Third Way, a centrist think-tank, told Insider. "If Democrats want to control the bill, they need to have unanimity in their party."

The $15 minimum wage was ejected from the House bill by a Senate official who advised it violated strict reconciliation rules. Moderate Democrats voted against reinstating it in the bill. They also successfully tightened eligibility for stimulus checks and tweaked the formula for state and municipal aid.

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The economy showed fresh signs of a recovery this week. The newest jobs report showed employers added 379,000 jobs in February, a significant improvement over the month before. But the economy remained nearly 9.5 million jobs below pre-pandemic levels.

Democrats appear to be gearing up for a major push for an infrastructure bill in the coming months.

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