The US Senate voted to approve Joe Biden’s $ 1.9 billion stimulus bill, making the president’s plan to boost the US economic recovery a big step closer to its final passage in Congress.
The upper house of Congress passed the budget stimulus legislation by 50 to 49, along party lines, with all Democrats voting for and all Republicans present opposing it.
The Senate green light brings Biden’s goal of stimulating the U.S. economy with a large-scale dose of federal support during his first months in office in preparation for the finish line.
The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives will now consider the Senate’s version of the stimulus package in the coming days. If approved by the House, it will then head to Biden’s office to be legalized.
As the job market is still 9.5 million jobs below its pre-pandemic level, and working poor and minority communities suffer a disproportionate economic blow, the President and America’s Democrats have bragged about the package as being essential to ensure a strong and uniform recovery.
The stimulus “will remain one of the most sweeping federal stimulus efforts in history,” said Chuck Schumer, the Senate majority leader, shortly before the final vote. “It’s never easy to pass legislation as important as this. But it will all soon be worth it. ”
Biden and his economics team have dismissed criticism from some economists that the plan is excessive and risks a spike in inflation, even with the US recovery showing signs of a solid recovery in February after the winter crisis.
The president’s inability to convince a single Republican lawmaker to support the legislation is a blow to his hopes of using his decades-long experience in Washington to foster a new era of two-party politics to support his agenda. But that meant the White House and Democrats didn’t have to accept a smaller stimulus that would inevitably have resulted from a compromise with the Republicans.
Yet securing unity among Democrats has not been easy. The Senate was on a knife-edge for several hours on Friday when West Virginia centrist Democrat Joe Manchin called for changes to the unemployment benefit provisions of the law.
But after hours of intense negotiations with high-level members of his own party, Manchin agreed to back the legislation, allowing him to move forward.
U.S. lawmakers then spent the night voting in the Upper House on a series of amendments to the bill introduced by members of both parties, leaving senators with blurry eyes until the final vote shortly after noon.
The centerpiece of the stimulus package is a new round of means-tested direct payments to most Americans – worth $ 1,400 per person – that would be the third government check since the start of the pandemic.
The first handed out $ 1,200 to every eligible U.S. citizen a year ago at the start of the crisis, and a second payment of $ 600 was made last December.
But that plan is much broader, with 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 expansion of a child tax credit. It also includes additional funding for the roll-out of vaccinations and the reopening of schools.
Unemployment benefit provisions and eligibility for direct checks were both cut in the home stretch of Senate negotiations on the bill under pressure from centrist Democrats.
Progressive Democrats and the White House took a heavy blow when a group of moderate lawmakers, including Manchin, joined Republicans in rejecting calls to include an increase in the federal minimum wage to $ 15 an hour.
Republicans fiercely attacked the stimulus bill as excessive and poorly targeted, in a gamble that over time it will backfire economically and lose popularity. Most opinion polls show that Biden’s plan has the support of the majority of Americans.
“This weekend’s spending is larger than Canada’s entire annual economy, but only 1% of it is related to vaccines,” said Ben Sasse, Republican Senator from Nebraska. “This $ 1.9 billion ’emergency’ bill is essentially non-urgent – we should have bought Canada too,” he joked.