Harris Gives Dems Tie-Breaker Vote to Re-Up Virus Aid

No Republican in either chamber backed President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan, which left the Senate at around 5:30 a.m. after a grueling all-night session.

In this image from Senate TV, Vice President Kamala Harris sits in the chair on the Senate floor Friday to cast the tie-breaking vote, her first, to approve a budget resolution that paves the way for fast-track passage of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan without support from Republicans. (Senate TV via AP)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Back to the House this afternoon after an all-nighter at the Senate, Democrats passed a budget resolution Friday to fast-track President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion virus-relief bill without Republican support. 

Before it passed the House 219-209 on Friday afternoon, the Senate advanced the measure 51-50 along party lines at 5:30 a.m., following a lengthy process called “vote-a-rama” where senators can offer as many amendments as they want to the budget resolution. 

Typically there is a 60-vote requirement to pass legislation, but the Senate can pass the relief package with a simple majority of 51 members through the key procedural step. With 50 Democrats in the Senate, and Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote, Democrats had no need to offer concessions to move the legislation nor any worry about a filibuster. 

Democrats aim to get a final bill to Biden’s desk before unemployment benefits expire March 14.

“We cannot lock our country into a long and slow recovery,” Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said before the start of voting. “We must instead respond to the urgent needs in our country and chart a bold path back to normal.”

According to the Congressional Research Service, the expedited legislative process has been used to pass 25 reconciliation bills since it was first employed in 1980. 

Biden’s first legislative priority, “The American Rescue Plan,” is a sweeping proposal crafted by the White House that includes state and local government aid, $1,400 stimulus checks, expanded unemployment benefits, and vaccine distribution and testing funds. It also offers funding for schools to reopen and aid for businesses. 

Earlier this week, Biden met with 10 Republican senators to listen to their proposal for a $618 billion Covid relief package, stressing that he wanted bipartisan support for the bill. After the meeting, however, the White House said that, while there were areas of agreement, Biden “will not settle for a package that fails to meet the moment.”

No Republicans in either the House or the Senate voted in favor of the bill. In the House, Maine Congressman Jared Golden was the sole Democrat to vote against it.

Republicans say Democrats are using the massive bill to push their legislative priorities, rather than give relief to Americans. 

“We’ve demonstrated we can pass big, bold, unprecedented legislation if people on both sides of the aisle want to work together. We did it five times last year,” Senator Patrick Toomey said before the vote-a-rama. “But our Democratic colleagues don’t want to pursue that anymore because they have a different objective in mind.” 

The Pennsylvania Republican referenced the $900 billion relief bill that Congress passed only weeks ago. 

“This hasn’t got anything to do with a pandemic,” Toomey said.  

By Friday morning, nearly 900 amendments had been drafted, and several were adopted into the package — from both sides of the aisle. 

Senators backed a Republican proposal by Senator Jon Earnst, an Iowa Republican, to prohibit increasing the minimum wage to $15 until after the pandemic —  a major feature that Biden wanted to include in the package. 

Surprisingly, Senator Bernie Sanders agreed. 

“It was never my intention to increase the minimum wage to $15 immediately and during the pandemic,” said Sanders, a Vermont Independent. “My legislation gradually increases the minimum wage to $15 an hour over a five-year period. 

They also agreed to exclude high earners and undocumented immigrants from the stimulus checks and voted to block tax increases on small businesses during the pandemic.

Schumer called the vote-a-rama a “bipartisan activity” with “bipartisan amendments” but the package largely remains full of Democratic priorities, as evidenced by the vote split along party lines. 

Because of the amendments in the Senate, the budget had to return to the House, which approved the budget resolution on Wednesday with a 218-212 vote. It passed Friday’s updated version just after 3 p.m.

Now, committees in both chambers will begin drafting legislation within the framework of Biden’s proposal.

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