The U.S. Senate voted to take up a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill backed by President
The 51-50 vote Thursday, with Vice President
The vote has the Senate considering a bill passed in the House a week ago, but the chamber will later vote on a package of changes offered by Senate Majority Leader
A host of other changes could come later in a debate that Republicans are threatening to stretch out for several days and that will end in a grueling “vote-a-rama,” when senators can offer scores of amendments with rapid-fire debate and votes. In a chamber divided 50-50 between the two parties, with Harris able to break any ties, Democrats will be challenged to stay unified over votes that could politically risky or that could fundamentally alter the legislation.
As an added hurdle, GOP Senator
“No matter how long it takes, the Senate is going to stay in session to finish the bill this week,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. “The American people deserve nothing less.”
The Senate is plowing ahead despite warnings from federal law enforcement agencies that a militia group may be plotting to attack the Capitol on Thursday, about two months after a Jan. 6 siege of the building by extremist supporters of then-President
The House, which passed its own version of the relief bill on a 219-212 tally on Feb. 27, canceled Thursday’s session and scaled back other events at least in part because of the threat. Democrats are racing the clock to get the stimulus legislation to Biden’s desk by March 14, when existing supplemental unemployment aid expires.
Both the House-passed bill and the version Schumer proposes would provide $1,400 stimulus checks, enhanced jobless benefits and funding for vaccines and testing. A boost in the nation’s minimum wage to $15 an hour that is in the House bill was removed in the Senate because it didn’t comply with Senate rules that Democrats are using to pass their bill with a simple majority of votes.
As part of the effort to keep Democrats together, the president agreed Tuesday to a lower the income threshold for phasing-out stimulus payments in the aid bill, according to a Democratic aide.
Democratic Senators, including
The payments begin phasing out above $75,000 in annual income for individuals and $150,000 for couples, the same as set in the House bill, the aide said on condition of anonymity. But under the Biden-backed Senate Democratic compromise, payments would fully phase out for individuals making more than $80,000, compared with a $100,000 cap in the House-passed bill. And the full phase-out for couples would be $160,000 instead of $200,000.
The faster phase-out of stimulus checks in the Senate’s version of the pandemic relief bill means the Internal Revenue Service would send out about $11.7 billion less in direct payments, according to estimates by the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation.
Asked at the White House Thursday whether he was comfortable with the limits on direct payments, Biden answered, “Yes.”
A separate push by moderates to trim supplemental unemployment benefits to $300-a-week from the $400 approved in the House won’t be included in what is initially brought to the Senate floor, according to the aide.
The Senate’s so-called managers’ amendment to the House bill is expected to keep the House’s figure, which is a $100-a-week increase from the current level, through August. However, that could still get cut back to $300 in the amendment process.
Other changes from the House bill were hammered out among Senate Democrats late Tuesday.
One would subsidize 100% of the costs of continuing employer-based health insurance premiums through September for laid-off workers. The House bill would subsidize 85% of premiums for individuals eligible for so-called COBRA coverage in employer health plans.
Separately, the Senate bill would postpone by a year a provision in the House bill that lets states claw back money from drugmakers. The Senate’s version would end the cap on Medicaid’s drug rebate program in 2024 rather than in 2023, according to two people briefed on the Senate version. Democrats have proposed ending the drug-rebate caps, but hospitals and drug companies are among those who are pushing back.
“We’re in a good spot to get this done,” she said.
Once the vote-a-rama starts the danger is that Republicans could reshape some of the provisions by peeling off just one Democrat.
The Senate’s No. 2 Democrat,
“I think some negotiations and concessions have been made to solidify the Democratic support,” Durbin said.
(Updates with cost estimate on direct checks in 13th paragraph)
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