Senate approves $1.9 trillion virus relief plan with some changes

 Senate approves $1.9 trillion virus relief plan with some changes

Senate approves $1.9 trillion virus relief plan with some changes
 Senate approves $1.9 trillion virus relief plan with some changes

(March 7, 2021, 12:03 p.m. EDT) - The Senate voted along party lines Saturday to approve the $1.9 trillion Democratic epidemic relief package after changes to provisions on minimum wage, health insurance, pensions, broadband, student loans and entertainment venues.

The U.S. Bailout Bill passed the Senate by a 50-49 vote Saturday afternoon after more than 24 consecutive hours of votes on the amendment and intense negotiations. It's the second largest stimulus package in American history. House leaders say the House of Representatives will vote Tuesday to approve senate changes and send the bill to President Joe Biden.

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, R-New York, said in the Senate chamber on Saturday "help on the way." "This bill will help more people than anything the federal government has provided in decades."

Republicans are unanimous in their opposition. The party mostly supported $3.4 trillion in relief spending in three packages last year, but denounced the bill as wasteful and misleading as the economy shows some signs of recovery.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, A Republican from Kentucky, said Saturday in the Senate floor: "The Senate has never spent $2 trillion in a more random or less rigorous way." "The Democrats decided that their top priority was to alleviate the epidemic. They were on their wish list in Washington. It was confusion through irrelevant political changes that they could not pass honestly."

The most expensive components of the package include $1,400 stimulus checks costing about $420 billion; $350 billion in aid to state and local governments; nearly $250 billion to increase unemployment benefits; about $170 billion for schools and universities; about $160 billion in individual and corporate tax breaks; and about $125 billion for vaccines, testing and public health. These figures from the non-governmental Committee on the Responsible Federal Budget may not reflect certain changes in the Senate.

The Upper Chamber dropped the $15 minimum wage from the version approved by the House of Representatives on February 27. The senator had determined that the item was ineligible for the fast track for budget procedures, and a last-minute attempt to restore it failed on Friday. Eight members of the Democratic Caucus join republicans in the opposition.

The benefits provisions will spend more than $80 billion to save stalled union retirement plans and extend deadlines for individual employer plans, which have met with some opposition from retired advocates and Republicans who have questioned their inclusion in the epidemic relief bill. The Senate changed this section to allow employers to decide whether to apply the changes retroactively. It also added a six-month clause to make the federal government fully cover cobra health insurance premiums for laid-off workers.

Senate Democrats changed the bill to allow states, tribes and local governments to spend $350 billion in broadband assistance, in addition to direct spending related to the epidemic. These funds will be available until 2024.

Another democratic change means that student loan exemption, which usually raises taxable income, will not be taxable from 2021 to 2025.

Another amendment allowed independent entertainment venues to accept government assistance through both the Save Our Stages and the PayCheck Protection Program.

One of the four Senate amendments approved on the floor was a bipartisan plan to extend the CARES clause for six months that allows federal contractors to pay employees unable to work because of the epidemic. The $2 trillion CARES Act approved a year ago is the only stimulus package larger than this package.

The senators voted on about 35 amendments, mostly an unsuccessful Republican proposal, in the "Rama vote" that began at 11 a.m. on Friday and extended throughout the night until Noon On Saturday.

The absence of Senator Dan Sullivan, an Alaska Republican who left town because of a family emergency, means Vice President Kamala Harris did not have to cut ties because the evenly divided chamber considered the package under special budget reconciliation rules that prevent disruption and allow passage with a simple majority.

Despite some concern about a progressive rebellion over Senate changes, House leaders pledged to quickly approve the amended bill and send it to Biden's office before the End of March 14 for unemployment benefits approved in the $900 billion December package.

"This bill helps a lot of people directly at a critical time," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters Tuesday. "I can't believe that the people who voted to send it to the Senate will also not vote to pass it and send it to the president to sign it," he said.