Stimulus Check Update: Senate to Begin Debate, but Republicans Aim to Slow Things Down

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Here's where things stand on stimulus checks in the Senate.

Yesterday, the Senate was expected to hold a procedural vote necessary to advance a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill that would provide $1,400 stimulus checks for eligible Americans. However, Wednesday ended without action and the vote will likely take place today instead.

The process is unlikely to be quick, however, as Republicans are exploring tactics to slow things down. Lawmakers on the right have expressed concern that the bill costs too much. And while Democrats can pass the legislation without their support, Republicans can still raise some roadblocks that cause delay.

The Senate will debate the bill, after a reading of the legislation

Democrats currently have 50 votes in the U.S. Senate. Ordinarily, this isn't enough to pass legislation, even though Vice President Kamala Harris can serve as a 51st vote to break ties. That's because legislation needs 60 votes to overcome a filibuster that prevents it from moving forward.

Since there aren't 10 Republicans willing to vote to break a filibuster and advance the relief bill, Democrats are using a process called reconciliation. Debate on reconciliation bills is limited to 20 hours, and since reconciliation bills can't be filibustered, they can pass with a simple 51-vote majority.

Democrats planned a procedural vote on Wednesday to begin the debate that's a prerequisite to the stimulus bill passing. However, they weren't able to move forward because the Congressional Budget Office and Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation must estimate the cost of the Senate's bill first. These non-partisan groups must find the price is under $1.9 trillion for the bill to advance.

But while Democrats expect this to happen on Thursday so they can vote to start debate, Republican Senator Ron Johnson threatened on a Wisconsin radio show to force Democrats to have the bill read in its entirety. When senators bring up bills for debate, they usually decline to have the legislation read. But Johnson plans to have the entire 700-page bill read in order to slow down the vote. The reading is expected to take around 10 hours.

Senator Johnson is making this move because he objects to the ultimate passage of the bill and wants to "lead the effort to resist." He's also suggested he'll offer amendments after the debate on the bill in an effort to further slow things down. This could prolong the final passage of the legislation until the weekend.

These procedural moves can't stop the stimulus bill from going forward. They can, however, create a headache for Democrats who are hoping to quickly deliver money into Americans' bank accounts. Still, as long as they don't lose votes among any of the 50 senators who caucus with them, the legislation is all but sure to pass the Senate in the coming days.

The Senate version of the bill differs in several ways from the one the House passed. It imposes stricter eligibility limits for the $1,400 stimulus checks, including a much lower income cap to receive the money. And a provision in the House bill raising the minimum wage to $15 has been removed.

The amended bill that passes the Senate will return to the House for a vote. It will almost certainly pass there even with the changes, and it will then be on the way to President Joe Biden's desk.

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