Senate begins considering Democrats’ $1.9T virus relief bill

The U.S. Senate voted Thursday to begin debating a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill after Democrats made eleventh-hour changes aimed at ensuring they could pull President Joe Biden’s top legislative priority through the precariously divided chamber.

Democrats were hoping for Senate approval of the package before next week, in time for the House to sign off and get the measure to Biden quickly. They were encountering stiff opposition from Republicans arguing that the measure’s massive price tag ignored promising signs that the pandemic and wounded economy were turning around.

Democratic leaders made more than a dozen late changes in their package, reflecting their need to cement unanimous support from all Democratic senators—plus Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote—to succeed in the 50-50 chamber. It’s widely expected the Senate will approve the bill and the House will whisk it to Biden for his signature by mid-March, handing him a crucial early legislative victory.

The Senate’s 51-50 vote to start debating the package, with Harris casting the vote that pushed Democrats over the top, underscored how Democrats were steering the package through Congress with virtually no margin for error. In the House their majority is a thin 10 votes.

The bill, aimed at battling the killer virus and nursing the staggered economy back to health, will provide direct payments of $1,400 to vast numbers of Americans. There’s also money for COVID-19 vaccines and testing, aid to state and local governments, help for schools and the airline industry, tax breaks for lower-earners and families with children, and subsidies for health insurance.

The new provisions would have the government cover the entire cost of health care for some workers who lose jobs, up from its 85% share; boost spending for rural health care and capital projects; expand tax credits for student loans and start-up companies; and steer specific amounts of aid to smaller states. The details were provided by a Senate Democratic aide who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the decisions.

“The time is now to move forward with big, bold, strong relief for the American people,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

Even with the late revisions, there was a good chance lawmakers will make yet another one and vote to pare back the bill’s $400 weekly emergency unemployment benefits to $300.

That potential change, strongly backed by moderate Democrats but opposed by progressives, could also extend those emergency payments another month, through September. It was described by aides and a lobbyist who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe internal conversations.

Biden and Senate leaders had agreed Wednesday to retain the $400 weekly jobless payments included in the version of the relief bill the House approved Saturday. The reduction to $300—which seemed likely to occur once the Senate begins a “vote-a-rama” on scores of amendments later this week—seemed to reflect a need to secure support from moderate Democrats.

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Story Continues Below

Editor's note: You can comment on IBJ stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.

6 thoughts on “Senate begins considering Democrats’ $1.9T virus relief bill

  1. ‘Just keep printing that money with nothing behind it; tomorrow may never come!

    (Considering that every self-pronounced Democrat “good deed” is reportedly “for the children,” isn’t it odd that said purpose is voided when it comes to burdening those children with an impossible national debt? Nah, not when it’s liberal politicians looking to buy votes and demonize fiscal conservatives.)

    1. National debt theory and policy aside. You should see how much republicans have added to the debt only to benefit the top. You’ll see that fiscal conservatives are a myth.

    2. I appreciate the detailed examples you provided, Charlie. Obviously, you haven’t followed the demographics of the wealthiest voting blocs today; they are no longer Republicans.

      What was it President Lyndon B. Johnson famously said when he signed the first big giveaway bills to create The Great Society? “If we get this passed, we’ll have those [n-word] voting Democrat for generations.” He might have been one of the most prominent covert racists of his day, along with Robert Byrd, et al., but he sure knew what he was doing for his party.

      (And the beat goes on…although I’d much prefer to have Democrat JFK in the Presidency today instead of the dementia-addled fool the fraudulent 2016 “election” produced…and his obvious successor waiting in the wings as soon as they formally declare him incompetent…)

    3. If you understood how cheap it is for the Feds to borrow, you just might drop your Chicken Little routine.

    4. Bob, you mean the same Lyndon B. Johnson who famously said that by passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 Democrats will lose the South for a generation. He was right. As a covert racist it seems he sacrificed a lot to promote equality. Without the South today, the Republican Party would be irrelevant.

    5. Bob, you seem to be having trouble staying on topic. Hope you are okay. I was simply responding to your claim that there is some conspiracy that no one talks about the deficit when, as you state, “it’s liberal politicians looking to buy votes and demonize fiscal conservatives.”. Of course people are talking about it. That is why the price tag is in every headline and the discussion of spending is literally everywhere. It just also happens that this package is overwhelmingly popular with the public, and there is evidence that these investments will pay off over time. There is not some imaginary double standard here. But it seems you are pretty far down the conspiracy hole, engaging into race-baiting and 2016?/2020? fraud claims, so there’s probably no point in discussing this with you.