by Christy Bieber | March 6, 2021
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Before President Joe Biden took office, he laid out an ambitious plan for a coronavirus relief bill. It would cost $1.9 trillion and, among other things, would provide $1,400 stimulus checks for most Americans, as well as relief for the unemployed.
Democrats worked quickly to pass legislation based on his framework, but they suffered a setback on Friday as a conflict over unemployment benefits resulted in a lengthy delay. A compromise was reached late on Friday, however, and Democrats redoubled their efforts to swiftly provide relief, rebuffing an attempt by Senator Mitch McConnell to adjourn until Saturday. They instead insisted they continue voting on amendments so they could still get the bill passed this weekend.
Their persistence paid off. After working through the night, the Senate passed the bill 50-49 along party lines on Saturday afternoon.
Democrats used a process called reconciliation to pass the stimulus bill without Republican support.
This process was necessary because they have exactly 50 senators who caucus with them. Reconciliation bills cannot be filibustered, which is a procedure that prevents a bill from moving forward in the Senate without 60 votes. Reconciliation bills can pass with a simple majority,
Democrats expected to pass their bill in a 51-50 vote, with the Vice President breaking the tie. However, because Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) was absent, Democrats were able to pass it 50-49, with no need for Kamala Harris to cast the tie-breaking vote.
Since Democrats needed every vote from senators who caucus with their party, unanimous support on the left was required in order for the legislation to pass.
On Friday, however, Senator Joe Manchin, a conservative West Virginia Democrat, made it clear he wasn't on board with a provision of the bill related to unemployment. The House of Representatives had approved a stimulus bill providing an extra $400 in weekly unemployment benefits through August. However, Manchin was concerned that such a large expanded benefit could discourage unemployed Americans from returning to work. He was also wary of the cost.
There were two competing amendments offered by Senators to change the unemployment expansion. Republican Senator Rob Portman suggested lowering the amount to $300 and extending benefits only through July. Alternatively, Democratic Senator Tom Carper suggested reducing the threshold to $300 but extending the benefits through the end of September.
Initially, Manchin suggested he'd back the Republican plan, which was much less generous than Democrats preferred. The result was a lengthy delay as lawmakers from both sides lobbied for his vote. Ultimately, a compromise was found. It scaled down the expanded benefits to $300, extended them through Sept. 6, and prevented up to $10,200 of enhanced unemployment benefits paid out in 2020 from being subject to tax.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki indicated that President Biden was on board, clearing the way for the legislation to move toward a voting marathon in which Republicans introduced a long series of amendments to try to slow the process further.
Senators worked late into the evening on Friday to address those amendments, defeating a motion by Senator Mitch McConnell to adjourn near midnight and resume Saturday. The voting wrapped up on Saturday, and the bill passed along party lines.
Now that the bill has passed the Senate, it must go back to the House, as the legislation that passed in that chamber of commerce was amended by the Senate.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has made it clear that the House will quickly pass the Senate's final version of the legislation, as the prior expansion of unemployment benefits runs out on March 14.
This means that with the Senate's successful party-line vote on Saturday afternoon, the legislation will likely move very quickly to the President's desk for his signature -- and Americans will soon see money from D.C. in their bank accounts.
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