This story is developing.
The long and winding road of Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package looks like it’s finally coming to an end. But questions remain as to what will likely be in the final version of the bill.
Here’s what you need to know about where things stand in Congress, what happens next, and what it all means for the stimulus payment you’ve been promised, and when it will arrive.
What’s happening in the Senate?
In a party-line vote, the Senate voted to open debate on the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package yesterday. That vote opened the door for a vote-a-rama today, a process in which any member can propose an amendment, typically give a short speech and command a roll call vote of the entire chamber. It’s going to be a marathon that no one likes, one whose only real purpose is to force members into tough votes since none of the amendments are binding. But it’s part of the budget reconciliation process, and if the GOP refuses to work with the Democrats and the Democrats refuse to abolish the filibuster then it’s going to be a recurring event on the Senate calendar if the Democrats want to pass anything substantive.
What’s in the Senate bill?
On the off chance you didn’t spend 10 hours and 44 minutes listening to the Senate clerks read all 628 pages of the bill per Sen. Ron Johnson’s petulant but orderly request, here’s some of what’s in it.
The third round of stimulus payments
An expanded child tax credit to become a monthly cash allowance
An extension of unemployment benefits through September
$350 billion for state and local government aid, some of which is earmarked for capital projects
$130 billion to help reopen schools and colleges
$30 billion in assistance for renters and landlords
$50 billion for small business assistance
$160 billion for vaccine development and distribution
After early talks with Republicans didn’t go anywhere, Biden and Senate Dems elected to use the budget reconciliation process, so the bill as it currently stands is the product of intraparty deliberation, not a bipartisan process.
What isn’t in the bill?
The big thing that’s missing from the version of the bill the Senate is debating today is a gradual, long-overdue minimum wage increase to $15 an hour. The Senate parliamentarian advised the Democrats, in a non-binding ruling, that it wasn’t allowed under the rules of budget reconciliation. Sen. Bernie Sanders will offer the minimum wage as an amendment. Every Republican and eight Democrats voted against it, so it will not be included in the final bill.
Also missing are the original more generous versions of the stimulus payment. The stimulus was trimmed from $2,000 to $1,400, then the upper-income limit was lowered to $100,000, and then it was lowered to $80,000, cutting 12 million people off from the benefit.
The unemployment benefit was supposed to increase the weekly payment to $400 and extend the benefit through August. But at the last minute, Sen. Tom Carper proposed a change. His plan would make it a $300/week payment that will be extended through September. According to some analysts, although this looks like a less generous offer in the stimulus package, it could actually put more cash in people’s pockets.
Elizabeth Pancotti, a policy director at Employ America, noted that while $2,400 in federal pandemic unemployment insurance was deducted from the bill, the average worker, with the combination of longer-running unemployment insurance and more tax forgiveness, will have about $1,620 more in their wallets than in the House version of the bill.
But for that to happen, Sen. Joe Manchin would have to sign on, something that he has yet to do. In fact, Manchin is being courted by GOP Sen. Rob Portman, who was pushing an extension at $300 a week only in to July.
Will it pass the Senate?
Almost certainly. No member of the Democrat caucus, even the progressives peeved at the conservative changes to the bill, wants to block the entire massive bill for both policy and political reasons. There’s even an outside shot that Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, could vote for the bill, which provides more funding for the tourism industry and aid to smaller population states, two of her priorities.
What happens next?
Assuming the Senate passes the bill, likely on Saturday morning, it will go back to the House, which has to approve the Senate’s version of the bill, which differs from the one it already passed. They will likely pass it again next week, the final step before Biden can sign it into law by March 14th — which is when you can expect stimulus checks to start going out.
His next legislative priority? A plan to correct the abysmal state of America’s infrastructure.
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