The Senate is continuing to work on President Biden's coronavirus relief bill, and it could be sent back to the House by this weekend. CBS News congressional correspondent Nikole Killion joined CBSN's Tanya Rivero from Capitol Hill with the latest.
- Much needed coronavirus relief could be passed as soon as this weekend. This is a look at the Senate floor where they are participating in a vote-a-rama on the COVID relief bill. The senators wrapped up three hours of debate earlier today. Lawmakers are trying to pass President Biden's American Rescue Plan before crucial relief programs expire on March 14. The bill also includes $1,400 stimulus checks for most Americans.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer says they will continue working until this bill is passed.
CHUCK SCHUMER: We are not going to be timid in the face of big challenges. We are not going to delay when urgent action is called for. We are going to power through and finish this bill however long it takes. The American people are counting on us. And our nation depends on it.
- Republicans, including Leader Mitch McConnell, say the bill is too big and unfocused.
MITCH MCCONNELL: This isn't a pandemic rescue package. It's a parade of left wing pet projects that are ramming through-- they're ramming through during a pandemic.
- For more on this, I want to bring in CBS News congressional correspondent Nikole Killion. Hi, Nicole. So the Senate has now struck a deal to make unemployment insurance $300 per week through September. What are you learning about this?
NIKOLE KILLION: So this was a deal that was struck by both progressive and moderate Democrats. And really, it reflects an attempt to try to keep at least the Democratic caucus in line and all on the same page. And this was an idea that's kind of been floating around for some time. Now, the House Bill, the unemployment benefits, are $400 a week. But when it came over to the Senate, for the most part, they intended to keep it that way. And that was something that was also negotiated along with the White House and the president.
And now there is this new amendment that you're referencing that would instead allow these unemployment benefits to be lowered to $300 per week. But they would be extended over a longer period of time. So as the bill currently stands, those benefits were initially due to run out in August. And that was at the $400 rate. Now they will be lowered but extended for an extra month. So the $300 per week benefit will now be extended through September, which is something many lawmakers wanted because they were concerned.
As you know, lawmakers typically recess in August. So there was some concern that if this benefit runs out in August then Congress wouldn't be around potentially to extend it if it were warranted.
- Absolutely. And Nikole, in addition to enhanced unemployment benefits, remind us what else is included in this bill-- I mean, obviously, it's a pretty comprehensive bill. There's a lot in it-- but at least in terms of the kind of monetary relief some Americans can expect.
NIKOLE KILLION: Yeah, well, most Americans are anxiously awaiting those stimulus checks, right? So those are $1,400 and those primarily would go to those who are making under $80,000 a year and $160,000 for couples. That is probably the big ticket item in this measure. And then as I mentioned, unemployment benefits is another big chunk of this.
You also have additional funding for schools to help schools reopen, which we know President Biden has made a priority. There is additional money for vaccine distribution. There is rental assistance, food and nutrition assistance, as well as aid for state and local governments.
- And what does the timeline look like right now for the passage of this bill, Nikole? I mean, we know that Democrats are eager to get it passed. And we know that Republicans are not so eager to get it passed. So how is that going to play out in the days and weeks ahead?
NIKOLE KILLION: Well, we expect things-- even though they're moving slowly right now-- to move quickly once this measure clears the Senate, if, in fact, that's what happens. And Senate Democrats certainly do feel pretty optimistic about that. But as you mentioned, right now we're in this period called vote-a-rama, which sounds funner than it really is. And this is a period of time where lawmakers are going to be introducing amendments. They can get an unlimited number of amendments that they can offer on the floor. So we expect this process to continue for the better part of the day before that final vote comes, likely at some point this weekend.
If it does end up clearing the Senate, of course, then it will go back over to the House. And the House will have to vote on this modified package, since it will look a little different from what the House initially sent over. And then from there, it would go to President Biden. And the hope is that all of this can transpire before March 14, which is when federal unemployment benefits are due to run out.
- All right. Nikole Killion on Capitol Hill. Thank you so much.
NIKOLE KILLION: You bet.