The US Senate approved President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan Saturday, March 7th securing additional aid for American families, workers and businesses — and a legislative victory for the Biden administration.
After more than 24 hours of debate, the evenly divided Senate voted 50-49 to approve the measure. Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska was absent because he was in Alaska for a family funeral.
The final vote was 50-49, with all Democrats voting in favor of the bill and all Republicans voting against it. The passage of the bill was met with cheers and applause from Democrats, celebrating the passage of one of Mr. Biden’s key priorities. Vice President Kamala Harris did not need to visit the Capitol to break any ties, as GOP Senator Dan Sullivan left due to a family emergency on Friday.
The package would deliver a new round of financial assistance to Americans grappling with the impact of the pandemic, including $1,400 direct payments, an extension of supplemental unemployment benefits and an increase to the child tax credit.
Individuals earning up to $75,000 and couples earning up to $150,000 would receive the full direct payments of $1,400 per person. But those payments would phase out for individuals and couples who make more than $80,000 and $160,000, respectively.
The income cutoff was lowered after moderate Democrats demanded that the latest round of checks target lower-income families.
Federal unemployment benefits would be extended through Sept. 6 at the current rate of $300 per week, and the first $10,200 of those benefits would be tax-free for households that earn $150,000 or less. That provision followed a lengthy debate Friday among Democratic senators.
Democrats were under pressure to get the bill to Biden’s desk before current federal unemployment benefits expire on March 14. The budget reconciliation process allowed them to act without Republican backing, requiring only a simple majority to pass the bill.
Democrats took a victory lap after the passage of the bill, with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer telling reporters after the vote that “it’s a great day for this country.” Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders called the bill “the most significant piece of legislation to benefit working families in the modern history of this country.”
President Biden dubbed the plan “historic” during an address on Saturday.
“For over a year the American people were told they were on their own,” he said, and later added, “This nation has suffered too much for much too long, and everything in this package is designed to relieve the suffering and to meet the most urgent needs of the nation.”
The president noted that 85% of American households will now soon receive direct payments of $1,400 per person, and a “typical middle class family of four” will get $5,600. “That means the mortgage can get paid. That means maintaining the health insurance you have. It’s going to make a big difference in so many lives in this country,” he said.
“The bottom line is this: This plan puts us on the path to beating this virus,” Mr. Biden said Saturday. “This plan gives those families that are struggling the most the help and the breathing room they need to get through this moment. This plan gives small businesses in this country a fighting chance to survive. And one more thing,” he added, “this plan is historic.”