Divided Senate Passes Biden’s Pandemic Aid Plan

The chamber approved the package after a grueling marathon of amendment votes and last-ditch negotiations. The measure must now clear the House a second time.

By Emily Cochrane

WASHINGTON — President Biden’s sweeping $1.9 trillion stimulus bill passed a deeply divided Senate on Saturday over unanimous Republican opposition, as Democrats pushed through a pandemic aid plan that includes the largest antipoverty effort in a generation.

The package, which still must pass the House before it heads to Mr. Biden’s desk to be signed into law, is the first major legislative initiative of his presidency. It would inject vast amounts of federal resources into the economy, including direct payments of up to $1,400 for hundreds of millions of Americans, jobless aid of $300 a week to last through the summer, money for distributing coronavirus vaccines and relief for states, cities, schools and small businesses struggling during the pandemic.

Beyond the immediate aid, the measure, titled the American Rescue Plan, would also have a huge effect in combating poverty in the United States. It would potentially cut child poverty in half, through a generous expansion of tax credits for low-income Americans with children, increases in subsidies for child care, a broadening of eligibility under the Affordable Care Act and an expansion of food stamps and rental assistance.

Its eye-popping cost is just shy of the $2.2 trillion stimulus measure that became law last March, just as the devastating public health and economic impact of the coronavirus crisis was coming into view. It is the sixth in a series of substantial spending bills Congress has enacted since then, and the only one to pass without bipartisan support, although it is broadly popular with members of both parties outside Washington.

Yet with Democrats newly in control of both houses of Congress and Mr. Biden embarking on his first major legislative push, the party-line vote was an early indicator of the Republican opposition that threatens the new president’s agenda in a 50-50 Senate.

As leading Democrats raced to avoid a lapse in unemployment benefits set to begin on March 14, a groggy and bleary-eyed Senate approved the package 50 to 49, with one Republican absent. Final passage came after a grueling 27-hour session in which Democrats beat back dozens of Republican efforts to change the bill, and scaled back the jobless aid to placate moderates in their own ranks who were concerned that an overly generous federal payment would keep Americans from returning to work, stifling the recovery.

The marathon session featured the longest vote in modern Senate history, as Democratic leaders stalled for time amid last-ditch negotiations with Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a moderate holdout, to trim the unemployment benefits so the measure could proceed.

The resulting package was a narrower version of Mr. Biden’s original plan, with major progressive priorities either dropped or curtailed to accommodate Mr. Manchin and other moderate Democrats. Unlike the president’s plan and a version passed by the House last weekend, it omits an increase in the federal minimum wage to $15. It also narrows eligibility for stimulus checks and reduces weekly unemployment payments, which Mr. Biden and Democrats had hoped to increase to $400 from their current $300 level.

Still, the pandemic aid bill was one of the most far-reaching federal relief efforts ever to pass Congress, and represented a bid by Mr. Biden to use the power of the government to tackle the pandemic and invigorate the economic recovery by pouring immense amounts of money into initiatives to help low-income Americans and the middle class.

Source: Read Full Article