WASHINGTON — The Senate passed a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package Saturday, capping off a marathon overnight session after Democrats resolved internal clashes that threatened to derail President Joe Biden's top legislative priority.
The far-reaching legislation includes $1,400 stimulus checks, $300-per-week jobless benefits through the summer, a child allowance of up to $3,600 for one year, $350 billion for state aid, $34 billion to expand Affordable Care Act subsidies and $14 billion for vaccine distribution.
The final vote was 50-49 along party lines, with every Republican voting "no." It came after Democrats voted down a swath of Republican amendments on repeated votes of 50-49 to avoid disrupting the delicate agreement between progressive and moderate senators.
Before it can be signed by Biden, the legislation will have to be passed again by the House because the Senate made changes to its version. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said the chamber would vote Tuesday on the Senate-passed legislation.
Biden called the aid package "urgently needed" and praised the Senate for passing it Saturday, saying it will get "checks out the door" to Americans "this month."
"The resources in this plan will be used to speed up manufacturing and distribution of the vaccines, so that we can get every American vaccinated sooner rather than later," he said.
He praised the Senate and hailed the measure's "overwhelming bipartisan support of the American people," referring to polling that indicates the legislation is broadly popular.
The vote was a critical early test of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's ability to keep all 50 Democrats unified behind a major piece of legislation despite being an ideologically and regionally diverse caucus.
"From the beginning, we said this: We had to pass this legislation," the New York Democrat told reporters. "We made a promise to the American people that we were going to deliver the real relief they needed. And now we have fulfilled that promise."
Schumer said Biden called him and he told the president, "I knew we would get this done."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., blasted Democrats for taking a partisan approach and argued that they would not deserve credit for the economic recovery.
"The Senate has never spent $2 trillion in a more haphazard or less rigorous way," he said. “Democrats inherited a tide that is already turning."
The legislation would be a victory for Biden, who campaigned for president primarily on bringing Covid-19 under control and reviving a shattered economy. The package also includes many progressive priorities, although others like a minimum wage hike to $15 an hour were forced out. Experts say the new policies will sharply cut child poverty.
The absence of Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, due to a family emergency prevented Vice President Kamala Harris from having to break a tie in the 50-50 chamber, which she had to do to allow the Senate to begin debate on the bill.
The Senate's changes to the House-passed version of the plan include reducing the jobless benefits to $300 (from $400 in the House bill) and extending them slightly to Sept. 6. The Senate limited eligibility for the $1,400 checks by capping the payments for those who make $80,000, or $160,000 for couples. And the bill subsidizes 100 percent of COBRA insurance coverage for jobless Americans, up from 85 percent in the House version.
The Senate also approved some modest and noncontroversial amendments offered by both parties before passing the final version.
The Senate appeared ready to begin the lengthy process, known as a "vote-a-rama," on Friday morning. But then Democratic leadership hit pause to sort out a last-minute dispute over jobless benefits and keep Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia on board after he appeared ready to side with Republicans and change that provision, a move that would have alienated progressives.
Senate passes $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill with no GOP supportMarch 6, 202104:21
As a result, Democrats dragged out the first vote of the day for 11 hours and 50 minutes, setting a record for the longest Senate vote.
In the end, Manchin agreed to support a provision backed by other Democrats that also allows the first $10,200 of the jobless benefits to be nontaxable for incomes up to $150,000.
Biden was in touch with Manchin during the course of the negotiations on the unemployment benefits compromise, a source familiar with the discussions said.
"Today the Senate passed a Covid-19 relief package that will help kill the Covid-19 pandemic and set us on the right track to economic recovery," Manchin said after the vote. "I am proud to vote for this relief package and I look forward to seeing the president sign this bill into law."