Blurry-eyed senators have voted through President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill with no support from Republicans after Democrats were forced to cut direct payments to $1,400 and strike a deal with moderates over unemployment benefits.
After labouring through the night on a mountain of amendments – nearly all from Republicans, all of which were rejected – senators approved the sprawling package on a 50-49 vote along party lines just after midday Saturday EST.
The Senate had been in session since 9am Friday, with work on the bill proving to be a test of both lawmakers’ physical stamina and Democrats’ ability to pass legislation backed by every senator in the party.
Following a compromise over unemployment benefits, Moderate Democrat Joe Manchin voted with his party colleagues. VP Kamala Harris was not needed to break the tie because Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan returned to Alaska for a funeral.
The legislation will now be shipped back for the House for its expected approval, before being sent to Biden in the coming week for his signature.
The huge package – consisting of nearly one-tenth the size of the entire economy – is Biden’s biggest early priority. However, it only passed after cutting direct payments, reducing unemployment benefits and failing on $15 minimum wage.
‘We tell the American people: help is on the way,’ said senate majority leader Chuck Schumer. Citing the country’s desire to return to normality, he added: ‘Our job right now is to help our country get from this stormy present to that hopeful future.’
Senators passed the stimulus bill along direct party lines at just after midday EST Saturday
‘We tell the American people, help is on the way,’ said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y
Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on the Senate floor Saturday as the huge stimulus package was passed
What does the COVID relief bill include
MORE CHECKS: The legislation provides a direct payment of $1,400 for a single taxpayer, or $2,800 for a married couple that files jointly, plus $1,400 per dependent. Individuals earning up to $75,000 will get the full amount, as will married couples with incomes up to $150,000.
The size of the check will shrink for those making slightly more, with a hard cut-off at $80,000 for individuals and $160,000 for married couples. Most Americans will be getting the full amount. The median household income was $68,703 in 2019.
AID TO THE UNEMPLOYED: Expanded unemployment benefits from the federal government will be extended through Sept. 6 at $300 a week. That’s on top of what beneficiaries are getting through their state unemployment insurance program. The first $10,200 of jobless benefits would be non-taxable for households with incomes under $150,000.
MONEY FOR STATE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENTS: The legislation will send $350 billion to state and local governments and tribal governments for costs incurred up until the end of 2024. The bill also requires that small states get at least the amount they received under virus legislation that Congress passed last March.
AID TO SCHOOLS: The bill will provide about $130 billion in additional help to schools for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Spending for colleges and universities will be boosted by about $40 billion.
AID TO BUSINESSES: A new program for restaurants and bars hurt by the pandemic will receive $25 billion. The grants provide up to $10 million per company with a limit of $5 million per physical location. The grants can be used to cover payroll, rent, utilities and other operational expenses.
The bill also provides $7.25 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program, a tiny fraction of what was allocated in previous legislation.
TESTING AND VACCINES: The bill provides $46 billion to expand federal, state and local testing for COVID-19 and to enhance contract tracing capabilities with new investments to expand laboratory capacity and set up mobile testing units. It also contains about $14 billion to speed up the distribution and administration of COVID-19 vaccines across the country.
HEALTH CARE: Financial assistance for ACA premiums will become considerably more generous and a greater number of solid middle-class households would qualify. Though the sweetened subsidies last only through the end of 2022, they will lower the cost of coverage and are expected to boost the number of people enrolled.
BIGGER TAX BREAKS FOR HOUSEHOLDS: Under current law, most taxpayers can reduce their federal income tax bill by up to $2,000 per child. In a significant change, the bill will increase the tax break to $3,000 for every child age 6 to 17 and $3,600 for every child under the age of 6.
The bill also significantly expands the Earned Income Tax Credit for 2021 by making it available to people without children. The credit for low and moderate-income adults would be worth $543 to $1,502, depending on income and filing status.
RENTAL AND HOMEOWNER ASSISTANCE: The bill provides about $30 billion to help low-income households and the unemployed afford rent and utilities, and to assist the homeless with vouchers and other support. States and tribes would receive an additional $10 billion for homeowners who are struggling with mortgage payments because of the pandemic.
Progressive Democrats are angry at the size of the package, with Ilhan Omar calling it ‘very disappointing’. She added: ‘We obviously are now ultimately sending money to less people than the Trump administration.’
It came as Democratic Senator for Arizona Kyrsten Sinema was slammed by her own party for ‘flippantly’ copying John McCain’s famous ‘thumbs down’ to help kill Bernie Sanders’ minimum wage amendment.
Sen. Sinema, 44, sided with Republicans and seven other senators as she voted down the Sanders amendment – but it was the way she vote her was cast that caused a social media uproar.
Sinema, who entered the Senate in January 2019 after serving in the U.S. House and Arizona state Legislature, was shown standing on the House floor, flashing a thumbs down and curtsying as her name was called to cast her vote.
It was similar to the memorable moment when McCain signaled a thumbs down when he failed to side with other Republicans to overturn the Affordable Care Act in 2017.
After Biden previously predicted that a $15 per hour minimum wage increased would not end up being included in his relief package, eight Senate Democrats joined Republicans on Friday in opposing Sanders’ bid to include it.
Progressive Democrats were also frustrated at a Senate agreement to reduce eligibility for $1,400 stimulus checks.
This will see the amount gradually reduced until it reaches zero for people earning $80,000 and couples making $160,000.
When asked if she thought this was Biden ‘abandoning progressives’ Omar responded by calling the vote a ‘very disappointing development.’
‘You know, the Senate Majority Republicans were willing to. There are going to be 17 million people who will get less money. This is not the promise that we made.
‘This is not what we are given the opportunity to be in the majority in the Senate and have the White House.
‘So ultimately, it is a failure when we compromise ourselves out of delivering on behalf of the American people and in keeping our promises.’
It came as Moderate Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin struck a deal late on Friday with Senate leaders over emergency jobless benefits, breaking a nine-hour logjam that had stalled the party’s showpiece bill.
Jobless workers will now receive $300 per week, on top of benefits offered by their state unemployment system, until September 6.
That is $100 per week less than the unemployment benefit passed by the House.
The bill will now be shipped back to the House – which is expected to give final congressional approval and whisk the bill to President Joe Biden for his signature.
The legislation will provide direct payments of up to $1,400 to most Americans and money for COVID-19 vaccines and testing, aid to state and local governments, help for schools and the airline industry and subsidies for health insurance.
The overall bill, Biden’s top legislative priority, is aimed at battling the killer pandemic and nursing the staggered economy back to health
“I see it as a really disappointing development. We obviously are now ultimately sending money to less people than the Trump administration,” says Rep. Ilhan Omar on Covid relief.
“It is a failure when we compromise ourselves out of delivering on behalf of the American people.” pic.twitter.com/MM8NAykxNk
— CNN Newsroom (@CNNnewsroom) March 5, 2021
Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn, has expressed her dismay at the size of the package after lawmakers cut direct payments, reduced unemployment benefits and removed a hike of the minimum wage to $15
Progressives slam senator’s ‘offensive’ thumbs-down sign to vote down Sanders’ amendment
Democratic Senator for Arizona Kyrsten Sinema was slammed by her own party for ‘flippantly’ copying John McCain’s famous ‘thumbs down’ to help kill Bernie Sanders’ minimum wage amendment.
‘It’s not just that Krysten Sinema voted against giving Americans a fair working wage, it’s the way she did it!’ wrote filmmaker Morgan Freeman.
‘Did Sinema really have vote against a $15 minimum wage for 24 million people like this?’ asked Sawyer Hackett, Senior Advisor and Communications for Julian Castro.
Others called out how she had been trying to talk to Mitch McConnell just moments before.
‘Maybe even more offensive than @kyrstensinema ‘s enthusiastic *thumbs down* to raising wages for workers was how she buddies up to Mitch McConnell right before she does it and makes sure he sees her,’ wrote The Tennessee Holler.
And more called out the senator for the handbag she was holding as she cast the vote.
‘I’m humbled to announce in a parody of white feminism Krysten Sinema [sic] voted against a $15 living wage while carrying a giant Lululemon bag,’ wrote writer Bess Kalb.
‘I wish I could tell you it isn’t true, but the bag is evidently called the ‘Happy Hatha Hour’ bag, and its manufacturer’s intent was for the wearer to take it from yoga to cocktails. Goodnight and good luck.’
Sinema hit back at the criticism, however, with her spokesperson claiming it was sexist to comment on the ‘body language’ or ‘physical demeanor’ of the senator as she cast her vote.
‘Commentary about a female senator’s body language, clothing, or physical demeanor does not belong in a serious media outlet,’ Hannah Hurley, a spokesperson for Sinema, told HuffPost.
Earlier Friday, lawmakers responded to the gridlock while pressure was put on Joe Manchin, who is probably the chamber’s most conservative Democrat.
‘I feel bad for Joe Manchin. I hope the hope the Geneva Convention applies to him,’ joked Republican Senator John Thune to reporters on Capitol Hill.
‘I just think that the Democrats right now are in a bit of a quandary.’
He continued: ‘I mean, they’ve essentially stopped action on the floor so that they can try and persuade, I think, all their members to stay together on some of these votes.’
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said of Manchin. ‘I don’t know where they’re at. The public needs to know. Save Joe Manchin!’
‘I think they’re trying to wear down Joe Manchin, who is intent on making sure we don’t spend more than we have to. This is on unemployment insurance,’ Republican Sen. Mitt Romney told reporters of the hold up.
Moderate Democrats, led by Sen. Tom Carper, had offered an amendment to lower federal unemployment benefits to $300 from $400 per week but to then extend the payments from August until October.
Manchin had reportedly favored a Republican amendment that would have the $300 weekly payments run through July, before the deal was struck.
Democratic Senators Krysten Sinema, Jon Tester and Catherine Cortez Masto cornered Manchin on the Senate floor after senators rejected an effort by Bernie Sanders to include a $15 an hour minimum wage in the package.
When the lawmakers realized their efforts to persuade Manchin were being watched by reporters, they moved back into one of cloakrooms of the Senate floor to speak more privately.
The vote on Sanders’ amendment was the first on 422 amendments filed. Not every amendment will get a vote and some will be voted on in blocks to try and speed up the process.
Before the unemployment benefits drama began, senators voted 58-42 to kill a top progressive priority, a gradual increase in the current $7.25 hourly minimum wage to $15 over five years.
Voting continued on the bill Saturday before passing around midday. Senator for Arizona Kyrsten Sinema was earlier slammed by her own party for ‘flippantly’ copying John McCain’s famous ‘thumbs down’ to help kill Bernie Sanders’ minimum wage amendment
Sinema’s vote was compared on social media to the memorable moment when late Arizona Senator John McCain signaled a thumbs down when he failed to side with other Republicans to overturn the Affordable Care Act in 2017 (as pictured above)
Eight Democrats voted against the proposal, suggesting that Sanders and other progressives vowing to continue the effort in coming months will face a difficult fight.
But eight hours after that minimum wage roll call began, it still hadn’t been formally gaveled to a close as all Senate work ceased while Democrats struggled to resolve their unemployment benefits problem.
By holding open the vote, they prevented any senator from addressing the floor or making a motion. The vote on Sanders’ amendment began at 11:03 a.m. ET.
Amid all the drama, the White House wouldn’t say whether President Biden had personally called the West Virginia senator to try to get him on board.
‘The President supports a compromise so that we can pass the Rescue Plan and get relief out, and he and his team are staying in close contact with Senators to find a resolution that will deliver for Americans who need help the most,’ a White House official told DailyMail.com.
Others called out how she had been trying to talk to Mitch McConnell just moments before
Social media users hit Sinema with criticism for the way in which she cast her vote
Democratic Senator from West Virginia Joe Manchin, left, and Republican Senator from Texas John Cornyn, right, walk to the Senate chamber as the Senate begins a so-called ‘vote-a-rama’
Senator Kyrsten Sinema (pictured) was among seven Democrats and one Independent to vote against the $15 per hour minimum wage amendment on Friday
Republican senators had offered multiple amendments to the bill, which Democrats claim is necessary to help the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
The GOP protests the bill’s cost and claim it’s filled with progressive priorities.
‘Votearama is upon us,’ said Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham before Friday’s action started. ‘Stay hydrated. Try to keep good cheer. We’re going to have lots of amendments today and kind of talk about where we differ on certain things, which will be good for the country.’
‘It’s going to be a long day,’ he added.
Sen. Bernie Sanders shot back: ‘Bring it on. We’re ready.’
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell accused Democrats of ‘ramming through an ideological spending spree packed with non COVID related policies.’
Harris had to rush up to the Capitol on Thursday afternoon to break a tie vote to allow the Senate to start debate on the relief package.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said of Manchin as the Senate stalled. ‘I don’t know where they’re at. The public needs to know. Save Joe Manchin!’
The Senate on Friday will begin a massive vote-a-rama on amendments from Republicans, led by GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell that will challenge Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s to keep Democrats together
After she cast her vote, Johnson made his motion to have the bill read aloud.
Bill readings are almost always dispensed with at the start to allow for debate, but Johnson saw it as way to register his frustration over the massive outlay of federal spending.
‘I feel bad for the clerks that are going to have to read it, but it’s just important,’ said Johnson, who has already faced criticism this week for suggesting the deadly January 6 US Capitol riot was not an ‘armed insurrection.’
‘Why are we authorizing another $1.9 trillion when we still have a trillion dollars sitting on the sidelines’ unspent from the previous pandemic relief bills? he told reporters.
‘It’s actually hard to spend this much money.’
Sen. Bernie Sanders’ began Friday’s vote-a-rama with an amendment to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour
Harris had to rush up to the Capitol on Thursday afternoon to break a tie vote to allow the Senate to start debate on the relief package