Senate passes $1.9 trillion COVID-19 aid bill, Dems not happy with changes


The Senate passed a massive coronavirus aid spending bill Saturday after hours of debate on GOP amendments and a protracted fight among Democrats over unemployment benefits.

The $1.9 trillion legislation heads back to the House, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi must sell the measure to her liberal faction of Democrats who are likely to oppose the changes made in the Senate.

The bill passed 50-49, with one senator, Republican Dan Sullivan of Alaska, absent.

While the House passed the bill last week, Senate Democrats made significant changes to appease party centrists and adhere to Senate rules that allowed them to pass the bill without any Republican support. Democrats stripped out a provision that would have mandated a $15 minimum wage and agreed to reduce the monthly enhanced jobless pay from $400 to $300.

The changes have angered the party’s liberal base, including those in the House Democratic Caucus, so it will be up to both Pelosi and President Biden to help usher through the Senate version before March 14, when federal unemployment benefits are set to expire. House Democrats control a very narrow majority and can afford to lose only a handful of votes in their own caucus since no GOP lawmakers are likely to vote for it.

House Democrats threatened to oppose the measure if it is sent back to the House with the “outrageous” changes made by Senate Democrats.

“I’m frankly disgusted with some of my colleagues and question whether I can support this bill,” Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey tweeted Friday.

Democrats agreed to the changes to win the support of Sen. Joe Manchin and other Democratic centrists who did not support mandating a $15-per-hour wage. Manchin also wanted unemployment benefits reduced to encourage people to return to the workforce.

As part of the deal, jobless benefits would extend until Sept. 6, avoiding an “August cliff” set by the earlier deadline, when the Senate is typically not in session. The deal also makes the first $10,500 in benefits tax-free.

Democrats are eager to pass the bill quickly and send it to Biden, who called the spending bill his top priority.

In addition to more unemployment pay, it would provide another round of $1,400 stimulus checks. The Senate bill lowers the income cutoff for individuals and families after some lawmakers complained that the money would go to high-income earners.

The legislation would also provide $350 billion to state and local governments and nearly $130 billion for schools, among other spending ... (Read more)

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