Senate finally takes up $1.9t relief package

2021-03-06 12:05:24

People hold a vigil on Thursday in Fountain Valley, California, for those who have died from COVID-19. [Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP] But opponents' plot-reading aloud of 628-page COVID-19 bill-delays debate WASHINGTON-The Senate of the United States voted on Thursday to take up President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus aid bill, but put off the start of a contentious debate until the full text of the 628-page bill was read aloud. The party-line vote of 51-50, with Democratic Vice-President Kamala Harris breaking the tie, illustrated that Democrats who narrowly control the chamber can expect little, if any, Republican support. A vote on final passage could come over the weekend. Republicans, who are expected to use procedural tricks to drag out the process, began by forcing Senate clerks to read the entire bill-a process that took nearly 11 hours. Republican Senator Ron Johnson, who had demanded the reading, was the sole member present in the chamber through most of the evening except for a rotating series of Democrats who served as the body's presiding officer. Senate clerks finished reading the bill a little after 2 am local time on Friday. The Senate then adjourned for the night and was expected to return at 9 am to debate the bill for three hours before considering amendments. With no votes to spare, Democrats tweaked the bill to ensure all 50 of their members would support it. They said they would steer more aid to smaller US states and add money for infrastructure projects, among other changes. But efforts by some senators to alter temporary federal unemployment benefits failed. The Senate bill keeps the House of Representatives' plan for $400 per-week payments through Aug 29. It was unclear whether any senators would try to change that, possibly to $300, during the lengthy amendment process in coming days. "The time is now to move forward with big, bold, strong relief for the American people," Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said. The relief bill, Biden's top legislative priority, includes funding for vaccines and medical supplies, extends jobless assistance and provides a new round of emergency financial aid to households, small businesses and state and local governments. Opinion polls indicate broad public support. Tightened criteria Senate Democrats on Wednesday tightened criteria for stimulus checks so fewer high-income households would qualify. The compromise means that 9 million fewer households would receive a stimulus payment than in the last tranche of payouts in 2020. It also lowers the cost of the legislation by $12 billion, according to Senate Democrats. Democrats hope Biden can sign the bill into law before March 14, when some of the current benefits run out. They, along with many economists, insist the United States needs another strong shot of stimulus in order to avoid a slow, painful economic recovery from the impacts of the pandemic. In the Senate, bills usually require the support of 60 senators. But the coronavirus relief bill is being advanced under a legislative maneuver known as reconciliation that allows passage with a simple majority vote. Agencies Via Xinhua