WASHINGTON – Democrats are racing to pass President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan, one that includes $1,400 stimulus checks, an extension of unemployment benefits and money for local and state governments.
The bill is currently being considered in the Senate, where Republicans who oppose it are attempting to delay its final passage in the chamber. Democrats aim to send it to Biden for his signature by March 14, when a federal boost to unemployment benefits expires.
The bill also includes money for delivering the COVID-19 vaccine, reopening schools that have been shut down due to the pandemic and businesses hurt as a result of the economic downturn.
Here’s what to know about the COVID-19 relief bill.
What’s going on with the bill right now?
The bill is being debated in the Senate, where lawmakers will also offer changes to the bill before voting on the legislation likely in the coming days.
What’s in the bill?
Here are some of the provisions in the $1.9 trillion legislation:
- Provides most Americans earning under $75,000 a $1,400 stimulus check.
- Extends unemployment benefits through August (the current benefit ends in mid-March) and bumps up the amount to $400 per week.
- Sends $350 billion to state and local governments whose revenue has declined because of COVID-19’s impact on the economy.
- Allocates $130 billion to help fully reopen schools and colleges.
- Allots $30 billion to help renters and landlords weather economic losses.
- Sets aside $50 billion for small-business assistance.
- Dedicates $160 billion for vaccine development, distribution and related needs.
- Expands the child tax credit up to $3,600 per child.
When might the bill become law?
Democrats have pledged to pass the legislation through the House and Senate before a $300 federal boost to unemployment benefits expires in mid-March.
The COVID bill could pass the Senate as soon as this weekend. It then has to go back to the House one last time because the Senate made changes to the bill. House Democrats are likely to pass the bill again next week.
“We will, in a matter of several days, be sending back to the House, and then we’ll send to the President the American Rescue Plan, the Biden American Rescue Plan, which we’re very, very proud of,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Thursday.
Once debate in the Senate concludes, senators are allowed to bring up amendments to the bill. The rapid succession of votes on each proposed change is dubbed a “vote-a-rama,” which could go on for hours.
The process could be drawn out because Republicans are trying to stall the process and draw attention to parts of the bill they disagree with.
Some Republicans like Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., have threatened to continually introduce amendments. Johnson said he was setting up shifts for senators to remain on the Senate floor, further dragging out the process. But other Republican senators seemed to lack an appetite for prolonging the process too much.
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., told reporters, “at some point there has to be an end. We’re just trying to determine what the end is.”
Few of the Republican amendments are likely to substantially alter the legislation because they will not garner the simple majority of votes required to pass.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, predicted it was “not likely” the Republican amendments would garner Democratic support, so “it’s very unlikely that any Republicans will support the final bill.”
What is budget reconciliation being used to pass the bill?
The Senate is tied 50-50 between Republicans and Democratic caucus members, and Vice President Kamala Harris is available to break ties. But Democrats do not have the 60-vote majority to thwart any Republican effort to block the legislation.
Instead, Democrats are using a process called budget reconciliation that allows them to skip major procedural roadblocks. Reconciliation allows Democrats to pass the legislation with a simple majority. But the process is subject to certain rules.
Both parties have used budget reconciliation before. Republicans tried to use it to repeal the Affordable Care Act in 2017, but it failed when three Republican senators voted with all Democrats to reject the repeal.
Republicans later succeeded, however, in passing major tax code reform through reconciliation.