Biden Relief Bill on Track for Weekend Vote in Senate

Senators are set to debate amendments to the American Rescue Plan, a process that will likely extend into the weekend.

Vice President Kamala Harris arrives to break the tie on a procedural vote Thursday as the Senate works on the Democrats’ $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (CN) — After an 11-hour recitation of the Biden administration’s Covid-19 relief plan on the Senate floor Thursday night, lawmakers set their sights on amending and debating the bill on Friday.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Friday morning lauded clerks who read the 628-page bill until after 2 a.m. The New York Democrat said they did not expect part of their jobs this week to include standing and reading dense legislative language for hours on end.  

That undertaking by Senate staff kicked off around 3:20 p.m. on Thursday, after Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson objected to the routine skipping of a clerk’s reading of legislation up for a vote, in this case the American Rescue Plan — the $1.9 trillion economic stimulus plan proposed by President Joe Biden.

Schumer noted that a year ago, during the first week of March 2020, the Senate convened to debate and eventually pass the CARES Act — the first piece of relief legislation lawmakers put together in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. No one could have anticipated losing more than 10 million jobs and 500,000 Americans in the meantime, he said.

“Even as the vaccine makes its way across the country and hope shimmers on the horizon, millions of Americans are still struggling with basic necessities,” Schumer said. “Folks are thousands of dollars behind on rent and utilities, their heat, water and power is getting shutoff. More than a million on unemployment insurance report that their kids aren’t getting enough to eat.”

Delay is all Republicans opposed to the measure can do to hinder the inevitable passage of the bill, expected to happen over the weekend. House Democrats passed the relief plan through budget reconciliation last week after working through its provisions in committee hearings.

When a Senate vote is finally taken on the bill – expected to happen Saturday – it will need only a simple majority to pass, rather than the normal 60-vote threshold needed to clear the filibuster hurdle.

Despite pushback from GOP lawmakers, Schumer said on the Senate floor Friday the bill has overwhelming bipartisan support among most Americans.  

“It seems the only group in American who doesn’t support the American Rescue Plan are Washington Republicans,” he said. “My colleagues on the other side of the aisle say $1.9 trillion is too expensive. Well, my Republican colleagues didn’t think it was too expensive when they gave nearly the same amount in tax breaks to corporations and the ultra-rich in a healthy economy, not one that’s struggling.”

Republicans are expected to put forth many amendments to the bill into Friday evening, a process known as a “vote-a-rama.” Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky has said he wants the process to go long into Friday night, though the exact number of amendments to be offered is unknown.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said from the Senate floor Friday that Democrats were dead set on “ramming through an ideological spending spree packed with non-Covid related policies.”

“There’s a costly Obamacare bailout that will disproportionately benefit wealthier people,” the Kentucky Republican said. “Payments to farmers and ranchers based solely on the demographics of the recipient without any regard to actual need, a massive cash bail out for mismanaged state and local governments multiple times the size of Covid needs.”

McConnell also noted Friday’s jobs report that showed the economy added 379,000 jobs last month. He argued the relief bill was not designed to meet the country’s current economic needs.

“The goal was to restructure things to fit their vision, that’s why there was no bipartisan process after a year of completely bipartisan Covid bills that we’ve worked on together,” McConnell said, criticizing Senate Democrats.

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