Summary List PlacementThe 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 period of voting. The economic aid package heads back to the House for final approval.
Republicans were united in their opposition in the 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.
The final vote ended a turbulent “vote-a-rama” that saw lawmakers bulldoze through at least 25 amendments into the morning hours. Senators of both parties wandered out of the chamber to stretch their legs, trying to stay awake.
Democrats fended off a barrage of proposed changes to the bill. Most of the amendments were put forward by Republicans who strongly oppose the legislation, arguing it’s too large and contains unrelated spending.
Sen. Susan Collins of Maine tried advancing a $650 billion relief plan to replace it. Then Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky sought to tighten eligibility for small business loans. Sen. Mitt Romney pushed to require state and local governments to apply for federal aid through the Treasury Department. Democrats defeated them.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer praised the bill’s passage after the vote. 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.”
The legislation appeared to be on course to reach Biden’s desk within the week. It would provide $1,400 stimulus payments for most taxpayers; $300 weekly federal jobless aid through early September; fund vaccine distribution and testing; and provide significant assistance to state and local governments.
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.”
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.
The House will take the bill up Tuesday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Saturday in a statement.
“Democrats are delivering on our promise to take action to defeat this virus and provide the assistance the American people need until our economy can reopen safely and fully, Hoyer, a Democrat from Maryland said.
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.
Still, 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.
But the ideological cracks that emerged on Friday may foreshadow other difficulties Democrats could encounter 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.
The economy showed fresh signs of a recovery on Friday. 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.Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Why Pikes Peak is the most dangerous racetrack in America