Biden takes victory lap after Senate passes coronavirus relief package
President Biden took a victory lap Saturday after the Senate passed his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, handing him his biggest legislative victory since he took office.
“It’s a good day today. When we took office 45 days ago, I promised the American people help was on the way. Today, I can say we’ve taken one more giant step forward in delivering on that promise that help is on the way,” Biden said in remarks from the White House.
The legislation passed Saturday in a 50-49 vote after a whirlwind session that lasted more than 24 hours. The package was passed via budget reconciliation, a process that allowed it to avoid a 60-vote filibuster. However, the bill first had to undergo a vote-a-rama, during which any senator could propose an amendment to change the legislation.
The laborious process produced the longest vote in Senate history, but Biden touted it as necessary in the fight against the coronavirus. The package provides another round of stimulus checks, aid for state and local government, and more help for small businesses and schools, and it looks to bolster the nation’s growing vaccination effort. Many of those stimulus checks are now expected to go out this month after the legislation’s passage in the Senate.
“This plan puts us on a path to beating the virus. This plan gives those families who are struggling the most the help and the breathing room they need to get through this moment. This plan gives small businesses in this country a fighting chance to survive,” said Biden.
Biden thanked Vice President Harris, who presided over the deliberations, and every Democratic senator but singled out Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) for his efforts to cobble together a compromise to get the legislation passed.
“I’ve never seen anyone work as skillfully, as ably, as patiently with determination to deliver such a consequential piece of legislation that was so urgently needed as the American Rescue Plan. Chuck Schumer, Sen. Chuck Schumer, when the country needed you most, you led, Chuck, and you delivered,” he said.
Still, passing the legislation was no smooth feat. Voting on the bill was hung up Friday after Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) made it clear he would not back a $300 weekly boost to unemployment insurance into early October. A deal was ultimately reached to extend the payments into September and make the first $10,200 in unemployment benefits tax-free for households with income of up to $150,000.
Beyond the hang-up over unemployment benefits, the bill also left out language from the House-passed bill raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour and lowered the eligibility for individuals and families to receive stimulus checks.
“It obviously wasn’t easy. It wasn’t always pretty, but it was so desperately needed, urgently needed,” Biden said.
While the passage of the bill marks a major legislative milestone for Biden, Republicans lambasted it as a partisan maneuver that violated Biden’s vows to seek cooperation.
“Voters handed Senate Democrats the slimmest possible majority, shrunk the House Democrats’ majority, and picked a president who promised unity and bipartisanship. Democrats have responded by ramming through what they call ‘the most progressive domestic legislation in a generation’ on razor-thin and purely partisan majorities in both chambers,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Still, Biden maintained he would look for opportunities to work across the aisle on future legislative priorities.
“There’s a lot of Republicans that came very close, got a lot of pressure on them, and I still haven’t given up on getting their support,” he said.
The bill now heads back to the House for passage on the Senate version. The legislation is expected to pass, but progressives have grumbled over the changes made in the upper chamber — and some have even threatened they could pull their support.
“This trend is outrageous: Eliminating $15/hr Reducing thresholds for payments. …Cuts to weekly payments What are we doing here? I’m frankly disgusted with some of my colleagues and question whether I can support this bill,” Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.) tweeted during the Senate vote.
This trend is outrageous:
Reducing thresholds for payments (cutting off ~400k New Jerseyans)
Cuts to weekly payments
What are we doing here? I’m frankly disgusted with some of my colleagues and question whether I can support this bill.
— Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (@RepBonnie) March 5, 2021
Biden recognized the frustration but boasted that progressives would fall into line, noting that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the Senate’s most prominent progressive, backed the bill.
“They’re not frustrated,” he said at the White House. “As Sen. Sanders said, this is the most progressive bill since he’s been here.”