Senate Approves Budget to Move Forward with Biden’s Stimulus Plan without GOP Support

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President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer meet with Democratic senators to discuss efforts to pass coronavirus relief legislation at the White House in Washington, D.C., February 3, 2021. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

The Senate voted 51-50 to approve a budget resolution early Friday morning to fast track the passage of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief plan without the need for Republican support.

After almost 15 hours of “vote-a-rama,” in which any senator had the ability to file an amendment to the resolution, Democrats voted to move forward with budget reconciliation, allowing them to pass Biden’s plan with a simple majority vote rather than the 60-vote threshold required for most legislation to pass.

After the House approves the Senate’s changes, 25 committees across both chambers will work to draft the legislation for Biden’s plan, which will send a $1,400 direct payment to Americans, increase the weekly federal unemployment benefit to $400 through September. It will increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour and send billions of dollars in aid to states, communities and schools.

Republicans have argued that Democrats are turning their backs on promises to reach across the aisle and find compromise in moving to use budget reconciliation. Democrats have responded by arguing that the urgency of the situation requires fast action. A number of unemployment and other pandemic aid provisions from the last relief bill are set to expire on March 14.

“The new President talks a lot about unity, but his White House staff and congressional leadership are working from the opposite playbook,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), said of the budget reconciliation process earlier this week. “We’ll be discussing the facts… Senate Republicans will be ready and waiting with a host of amendments to improve the rushed procedural step that’s being jammed through.”

He continued: “We’ll be getting senators on the record about whether taxpayers should fund checks for illegal immigrants… whether Democrats should raise taxes on small businesses in the midst of this historic crisis… and whether generous federal funding should pour into school districts where the unions refuse to let schools open. And this is just a small taste.”

The Senate session began at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday and ran until 5:30 a.m. on Friday.

Democrats stopped amendments that would ban the cancellation of border wall contracts and keep federal funds from schools that don’t reopen even after teachers are vaccinated. They also defeated an amendment that would have prohibited a carbon tax.

Republicans pushed back on Democrats’ $15 minimum wage hike, adopting an amendment from Senator Joni Ernst (R., Iowa) that would prohibit the $15 minimum wage boost during the pandemic.

Senate Budget Chair Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) said he would support the amendment, though he noted that his plan to raise the minimum wage would do so over five years, not immediately.

A number of measures passed with bipartisan support, including messaging amendments to support the Keystone XL pipeline, to keep the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, to aid the hospitality and entertainment industries during the pandemic, and to prohibit federal agencies from banning fracking.

Almost every senator approved an amendment to ensure $1,400 stimulus checks would not go to “upper-income taxpayers.”

Other amendments that received bipartisan support included a focus on making sure illegal immigrants don’t receive stimulus checks, helping restaurants during the pandemic, raising public awareness about vaccine administration, helping rural hospitals, and not raising taxes on small businesses during the pandemic.

Democrats later stripped out three bipartisan amendments: one preventing checks from going to illegal immigrants and others expressing support for fracking and the Keystone XL pipeline.

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