The evenly split US Senate narrowly passed a $1.9-trillion Covid-19 relief bill after a marathon overnight session that continued until midday, with lawmakers voting along party lines.
The Senate approved the bill by a vote of 50 to 49, and Senator Dan Sullivan, a Republican from Alaska, missed the vote, Xinhua news agency reported on Saturday.
The so-called “vote-a-rama,” a long series of amendments votes, initially began on Friday morning, and was delayed for hours as Democrats struggled to convince Senator Joe Manchin from West Virginia, a moderate, to support their provision on unemployment benefits.
After a lengthy negotiation, Manchin and Senate Democrats finally reached a deal, allowing the “vote-a-rama” to resume shortly before midnight. A motion to adjourn until Saturday morning proposed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell narrowly failed.
The amended bill includes a $300 weekly federal unemployment benefit through September, instead of the $400 in the House-approved package. It also added a provision to make the first $10,200 of unemployment payments tax-free for households with incomes of less than $150,000.
Senators voted through the night and until midday on a series of amendments, most of which are proposed by Republicans and were voted down. Senate Republicans called the bill partisan and too expensive, while Democrats highlighted the urgency to fight the pandemic and offer support to businesses and families.
Earlier on Friday, a group of Democratic senators, including Manchin, joined all Senate Republicans in voting against Bernie Sanders’ proposal to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour. Senate parliamentarian ruled last week that an increase to the federal minimum wage violates the budget reconciliation process and cannot be included in the Covid-19 relief bill.
The measure, a major legislation for President Joe Biden, includes funding to directly combat the pandemic, direct relief to households, as well as support for hard-hit small businesses and communities.
“The American Rescue Plan will deliver more help to more people than anything the federal government’s done in decades. This bill is broader, deeper, more comprehensive in helping working people and lifting people out of poverty,” said Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, however, said on Twitter earlier that only 9 per cent of the bill is for the entire health fight, and only 1 per cent goes to vaccines. “All this borrowed money for a parade of unrelated policies that even left-wing experts say are badly targeted,” McConnell said.
The Senate-approved bill will have to go back to the House for another vote, before it is sent to Biden’s desk. Democrats have been rushing to get the new relief bill approved in Congress, as federal unemployment benefits are set to expire in mid-March.