- Democrats aim to approve their $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan by next week and send it to President Joe Biden's desk before the March 14 expiration of unemployment aid.
- The House already approved a version of the legislation, but will likely have to vote again after the Senate approves changes in the coming days.
- Republicans have opposed the legislation as they say it puts billions into unnecessary spending.
The Senate will start considering the House-passed version of the bill as soon as Wednesday, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Tuesday. After up to 20 hours of debate and a marathon vote on amendments, the Senate can pass its legislation.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said he expects the Senate to approve the plan by Friday or Saturday. The upper chamber is expected to pass a different version of the relief bill, so the House plans to reconvene on Monday to move toward approving the Senate-passed proposal.
Congressional Democrats want to get the legislation to Biden before March 14. A $300 per week unemployment insurance enhancement and programs extending jobless benefits to millions more Americans formally expire on that day.
"We need strong relief to get the economy going so it can continue on an upward path on its own," Schumer said on the Senate floor Tuesday. "That's what this bill is designed to do."
Senate Democrats still have to keep all of their members on board to get the bill through the chamber this week. While the party plans to approve the package through the budget reconciliation process that does not require any Republican support, it also cannot lose any votes from within its own ranks.
Democrats still have to assuage concerns within the party about the scope of unemployment benefits and direct payments in the legislation, according to Politico. In addition, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., still aims to find a way to put a $15 per hour minimum wage in the plan after the Senate parliamentarian ruled lawmakers could not include it as part of a reconciliation bill.
The party decided to scrap a potential tax penalty designed to make corporations pay a $15 an hour wage, worrying including it would delay the bill's final passage.
Biden was set to nudge Senate Democrats toward approving the legislation when he called into a meeting with the caucus on Tuesday afternoon.
The bill as passed by the House includes $1,400 direct payments to most Americans, plus a $400 per week unemployment payment supplement and an expansion of programs extending jobless benefit eligibility to millions more Americans through Aug. 29. It also expands the child tax credit for many households to up to $3,600 per child over a year, and puts billions more into rental assistance for people struggling to stay in their homes.
The legislation also includes $20 billion to speed up Covid-19 vaccinations, $350 billion for state, local and tribal government aid, and $170 billion for K-12 schools and higher education institutions for reopening and student aid costs.
No House Republicans voted for the proposal when it passed early Saturday, and two Democrats opposed it. Senate Republicans are expected to vote against the bill, as well.
The GOP has argued the plan includes billions in wasteful spending that the country does not need to combat the virus or restart the economy. Republicans have criticized in particular the state and local aid and school funding pieces of the plan.
After the House passed the plan on Saturday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the "partisan vote reflects a deliberately partisan process and a missed opportunity to meet Americans' needs."
Some Democrats believe Congress needs to do more to provide direct relief after passage of the $1.9 trillion plan. Eleven Democrats are pushing Biden to include recurring checks and expanded unemployment benefits as part of the separate recovery package he aims to pass later this year.
They want the assistance tied to economic conditions, so the support will phase out as the job market improves rather than at an arbitrary date.