American Senate passed $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill

  Bernie Sander's proposal to raise minimum wage to $15 an hour rejected by Senate

The US Senate has passed a coronavirus relief bill worth $1.9 trillion. The bill was passed after long debate and with many amendments made. 

The bill passed by 50 votes to 49 on Saturday, wrapping up a day-long session of amendments and debate. Every Democrat present voted in favor of the bill, and every Republican against. Republican Dan Sullivan (Alaska) was absent, which meant that Democrats did not have to bring in Vice President Kamala Harris to break the Senate’s 50-50 tie.

Democrats now hopes to pass the aid bill from Congress on Tuesday and then  President Joe Biden will sign it before unemployment aid programs expire on March 14. Democrats has the majority in Congress to pass this important bill. 

The Senate rejected a proposal moved by Democratic Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) to insert a provision raising the federal minimum wage to $15. Eight Democrats sided with their unanimous Republican colleagues to vote down Sanders’ amendment.

Democrats had to make several last-minute changes to win support from all of their members, as they say the plan is needed to get the country through the end of the pandemic.

Republicans opposed another major spending plan, contending the state of the economy does not warrant it.

The Democratic-held House aims to pass the bill on Tuesday and send it to President Joe Biden for his signature before a March 14 deadline to renew unemployment aid programs. The Senate approved the plan in a 50-49 party line vote as Republicans questioned the need for another broad spending package.

The legislation includes direct payments of up to $1,400 to most Americans, a $300 weekly boost to jobless benefits into September and an expansion of the child tax credit for one year. It also puts new funding into Covid-19 vaccine distribution and testing, rental assistance for struggling households and K-12 schools for reopening costs.

The package also includes $14 billion in payroll support for U.S. airlines, the third round of federal aid for the industry, in exchange for not furloughing or cutting workers’ pay rates through Sept. 30. Airline contractors were set aside $1 billion.

Another provision, which took several hours to resolve on Friday night, extended unemployment benefits until September 6, at $300 per week. The original version of the bill proposed by the House allowed for $400 per week until the end of August. Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat from West Virginia, had originally favored a Republican-proposed shorter extension of benefits, but changed his mind and sided with his party after a meeting with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

With the unemployment gridlock resolved, Republicans could do nothing to stop the Democrats using their razor-thin majority to pass the bill. As such, many of their amendments were proposed with an eye on forcing Democrats to support controversial positions by voting against them. These included amendments that would restrict funding for schools that allow transgender women to compete on female sports teams, and block funding for so-called ‘sanctuary cities’ that refuse to prosecute illegal immigrants.

For the majority of Americans watching proceedings, the core of the bill is the roughly half-trillion dollars it allocates to $1,400 stimulus checks. The version passed by the House restricts eligibility for these checks on a gliding scale to zero for people earning $80,000 per year.

                                                                 Khalid Bhatti 

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