The US Senate has voted to pass Joe Biden’s $ 1.9 billion stimulus bill, which brings the president’s plan to fuel America’s economic recovery a major step closer to final passage in Congress.
The upper chamber of Congress passed the tax incentive legislation 50 to 49, following party lines in which all Democrats voted in favor and all Republicans in attendance against.
The green light from the Senate brings Biden’s goal of boosting the US economy with a large-scale dose of federal aid during his first months in office within sight of the finish line.
From the White House, Biden described the Senate vote as a “giant step forward” in his efforts to “alleviate the suffering and meet the most pressing needs” of the pandemic-ravaged nation.
“When I was elected, I said we would take the government away from the fight on Twitter and get back to delivering for the American people,” he said, distinguishing with Donald Trump, his predecessor.
Immediately following Saturday’s vote, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives scheduled a final vote on the Senate version of the stimulus plan for Tuesday. If approved by the House, it then goes to Biden’s office to be signed into law.
With the labor market still 9.5 million jobs below pre-pandemic levels and low-income workers and minority communities taking a disproportionate economic blow, the US President and Democrats have touted the package as essential to a strong and steady recovery.
The stimulus “will fail as one of the most sweeping federal recovery efforts in history,” said Chuck Schumer, the Senate majority leader, shortly before the final vote. “It’s never easy to pass such a momentous piece of legislation. But it will all be worth it, and soon.”
Biden and his economic team have dismissed criticism from some economists that the plan is excessive and risks an inflation spike, even as the US recovery shows some signs of a solid rebound in February after the winter slump.
The president’s failure to get a single Republican lawmaker to support the legislation is a blow to his hope of using his decades of experience in Washington to advance a new era of duality to bolster his agenda. But it meant that the White House and Democrats did not have to accept a smaller incentive that would inevitably have resulted from a compromise with Republicans.
Yet it was not easy to ensure unity among the Democrats. The Senate was on edge for several hours on Friday when Joe Manchin, the centrist Democrat from West Virginia, pushed for changes to the unemployment benefit provisions of the legislation.
But after hours of intense negotiations with senior members of his own party, Manchin agreed to back the legislation so that it could move forward.
US lawmakers then spent the night voting in the upper house on a series of amendments to the bill tabled by members of both parties, leaving senators pale-eyed until the final vote shortly after noon.
At the center of the stimulus package is a new round of means-tested direct payments to most American individuals – worth $ 1,400 per person – that would be the third government check since the start of the pandemic.
The first provided $ 1,200 to each eligible US citizen a year ago at the start of the crisis, and a second payment of $ 600 was made last December.
But this plan is much broader, including an extension of federal emergency unemployment benefits worth $ 300 a week through early September, $ 350 billion in aid to states and local governments, and the extension of a tax credit for children. It also includes additional funding for the roll-out of vaccinations and the reopening of schools.
Provisions for unemployment benefits and eligibility for direct controls were both curtailed in the latter part of Senate talks on the bill under pressure from centrist Democrats.
Progressive Democrats and the White House took a hit when a group of moderate lawmakers, including Manchin, joined Republicans and turned down calls to include an increase in the federal minimum wage to $ 15 an hour.
Republicans fiercely attacked the stimulus bill as outrageous and inappropriately targeted, betting that over time it will backfire economically and lose popularity. Most polls show that Biden’s plan has the support of the majority of Americans.
“This weekend’s spending is greater than Canada’s entire annual economy, but only 1 percent of it is vaccine-related,” said Ben Sasse, the Republican Senator from Nebraska. “This $ 1.9 ton” emergency “bill is mostly not an emergency – we should have just bought Canada, too,” he joked.