Kamala Harris broke a tie in the U.S. Senate Thursday after the upper house of Congress split along party lines over whether to continue a debate on the $ 1.9 billion coronavirus relief program Joe Biden.
The Senate’s 50 Republicans voted against continuing the sweeping stimulus package, which required a decisive vote from Harris, the vice-president, which sparked the kick-off during the bill’s formal consideration by the upper room.
The stimulus, the flagship of Biden’s legislative program, must pass the Senate and the House of Representatives before it is sent to the president’s office to be signed into law.
Chuck Schumer, the Senate’s top Democrat, pledged Thursday to adopt the relief package in the coming days.
“No matter how long it takes, the Senate will remain in session to complete the bill this week,” Schumer said. “The American people deserve nothing less.”
The House, which is controlled by Democrats, passed the sweeping economic stimulus package last week in an online vote.
Second-largest stimulus package in U.S. history includes means-tested payments of $ 1,400 for U.S. adults, an extension of federal top-ups for unemployment insurance, and $ 350 billion in funding for state and local governments.
But the bill is now being considered by the Senate, which is split 50 to 50 between Democrats and Republicans, and where a handful of moderate Democrats now exert disproportionate influence over their caucus.
Biden and Democratic leaders have reached a compromise Wednesday to meet the demands of moderate Democrats. The agreement limits eligibility for stimulus checks to American adults earning less than $ 80,000 per year.
Under the agreement, adults earning less than $ 75,000 and couples earning up to $ 150,000 will receive full checks for $ 1,400, with the payment amount reduced for people earning up to $ 80,000. $ and couples up to $ 160,000.
Democrats’ amendment to the House bill would also increase the value of the federal Cobra health insurance program by 85-100% to help people who have lost their jobs keep health insurance, according to a Democratic Senate aide. .
The amendment also includes an additional $ 510 million to support homeless and low-income people facing eviction, and extends tax credits for start-ups and businesses struggling in the coronavirus pandemic. .
Democrats are still on track to pass the legislation ahead of their self-imposed deadline of March 14, when current federal unemployment benefits run out.
But their plans hit a stumbling block on Wednesday when Ron Johnson, Republican Senator from Wisconsin, slowed the process by requiring Senate staff to read aloud the over 600-page bill – an exercise that could take up to 10 hours, in addition to the 20 hours already allotted to debate the bill and the proposed amendments.
Johnson formally opposed after Thursday’s procedural vote, triggering a long read.
“I feel bad for the clerks who are going to have to read it, but it’s just important,” Johnson told reporters on Capitol Hill earlier Thursday.
“Very often we rush these massive invoices that are hundreds or even thousands of pages long. You don’t, no one has time to read them, ”he says. “At a minimum, someone should read it.”
Schumer said Johnson was “the face of Republican opposition to the bill”.
“We all know this will only delay the inevitable,” he added. “It will do little more than a sore throat for Senate clerks.”
Republicans have challenged the size and scope of the stimulus package and criticized Democrats for using budget reconciliation – a process that avoids filibuster and allows legislation to go through a simple majority, rather than 60 votes in the 100-member chamber – rather than reaching a bipartisan agreement.
“Democrats are trying to exploit the last chapters of the crisis to pass what President Biden’s chief of staff calls” the most progressive national legislation in a generation, “said Mitch McConnell, the Republican counterpart of Schumer. “And they said to the Republicans take it or leave it.”