After the longest vote in Senate history, the Democrats’ 1.9 trillion-dollar COVID-19 relief bill has made it through the Senate, despite fierce criticism from prominent Republicans. The bill, called the American Rescue Act, includes direct payments of up to $1,400 to most Americans, a boost of $300 to jobless benefits which will last into September, and the child tax credit being expanded for a year. US airlines, restaurants and bars, and COVID vaccines and testing will all see large sums of money thanks to the bill.
Despite some disagreements within their party, most notably from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), the Democrats will view the passage of the bill as a major success, as it fulfils one of President Biden’s most important promises. However, to gain Manchin’s support, the Democrats had to make concessions in major areas; the amount of assistance that is tax free and the weekly supplement. Manchin’s objection significantly slowed the passage of the bill.
Before the vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said, “We will end this terrible plague and we will travel again and send our kids to school again and be together again. Our job right now is to help our country get from this stormy present to that hopeful future.”
However, Republicans have heavily criticised the bill. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) lambasted the bill, calling it ‘a parade of left-wing pet projects that they are ramming through during a pandemic’. He argued that the US does not need almost $2 trillion dollars in stimulus money, citing a report from February which showed that employment statistics are doing better than expected. McConnell also claimed that “The Senate has never spent $2 trillion in a more haphazard way.”
In a ‘Vote-a-Rama’, Republicans forced a series of votes on issues which Sen. McConnell said were designed to improve the final bill. However, Republicans also forced some votes to get the Democrats on record concerning certain issues, such as giving stimulus checks to illegal immigrants and raising taxes on small businesses.
After the longest vote in Senate history, which lasted for 11 hours 50 minutes, the bill narrowly passed 50-49. About the long voting time, Sen. Lindsey Graham said that “If we were doing this [delay], you’d be all over us. We couldn’t get five feet down the hall.” The bill was passed through reconciliation, meaning that the Democrats’ only required a simple majority. The session before the vote lasted for 27 hours.
The relief package will now return to the House for approval, after which (providing it is successful in the House) it will be signed by President Joe Biden.