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Schumer says Senate will take up relief bill as early as Wednesday

Grace Segers
·4 min read
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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Wednesday that the Senate will take up President Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill "as early as tonight." Schumer pushed back against Republican arguments that the bill was too large, saying that the package was necessary to get the economy back on track.

"It doesn't matter what is in the bill," Schumer said in a speech on the Senate floor on Wednesday. "Everything my colleagues oppose is 'a liberal wish list.' That is what many of them call it. Well let me tell you, this bill is not a liberal wish list. This is an American wish list."

Even though the Senate will soon take up the bill, the specifics of the package are still being negotiated. Mr. Biden and moderate Senate Democrats struck a deal on Wednesday to limit eligibility for direct stimulus checks to Americans, lowering the income level for those who would qualify for payments, according to a Democratic source. 

The Senate is using the budget reconciliation process to pass the bill, which limits time for debate and allows legislation to pass with a simple majority, without any Republican votes. Schumer previously expressed confidence on Tuesday that the bill will pass in the Senate this week with support from his entire caucus.

"We want to get the biggest, strongest, boldest bill that can pass. And that's what we are working to do," Schumer told reporters on Tuesday. "We'll have the votes we need to pass the bill."

The Senate is evenly divided, and Vice President Kamala Harris casts the tie-breaking vote, meaning that all 50 Democratic senators will need to support the bill for it to pass. Republicans have criticized the size of the bill and chastised Democrats for using the budget reconciliation process to allow the bill to be approved without bipartisan support. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell argued in a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday that Democrats had chosen a "completely partisan route" to pass the relief package.

Under the rules of the budget reconciliation process, debate on the bill will be limited to 20 hours. This will be followed by a "vote-a-rama" later this week, in which the Senate will vote on a series of amendments to the bill. Traditionally, the minority party has used a "vote-a-rama" to put political pressure on the majority by attempting to pass controversial amendments. However, most amendments introduced by the minority party fail, as an amendment requires a simple majority of votes to be added to the bill.

Senator Bernie Sanders, the chair of the Senate Budget Committee, has said he will introduce an amendment to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour. Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden and Senate Health, Labor, Education and Pensions Committee Chair Patty Murray will join Sanders in offering the amendment.

"I intend to offer the bill that will raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and we'll see how the votes go," Sanders told reporters on Monday. "But let me be very clear: If we fail in this legislation, I will be back. We're going to keep going and, if it takes 10 votes, we're going to raise that minimum wage very shortly."

A provision raising the minimum wage was included in the initial relief bill, but the Senate parliamentarian ruled last week it could not be included under the "Byrd rule," which requires provisions included in a bill passed through reconciliation be budget-related. The House passed the relief bill including the minimum wage provision last week.

It is unclear whether Sanders' amendment will be able to reach the threshold to pass, as Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have expressed concern about raising the minimum wage to $15. If the amendment did pass, Republicans could raise a point of order against it, as the parliamentarian has ruled inclusion of such a provision would violate budget reconciliation rules. Harris, in her role as president of the Senate, could dismiss the point of order.

A group of progressive lawmakers sent a letter to Mr. Biden and Harris on Monday, urging Harris to dismiss any point of order brought by Republicans, which would overrule the parliamentarian's decision. Republicans could then try to challenge Harris' decision, but would require 60 votes to overturn it.

"The outdated and complex Byrd rule rooted in restricting progress must not be an impediment to improving people's lives. You have the authority to deliver a raise for millions of Americans," the letter said.