Nicholas Kamm | AFP | Getty Images
The Senate, led by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., voted along party lines Saturday to approve the massive Covid-19 relief plan, which includes $1,400 stimulus checks for many Americans, $350 billion in aid to state and local governments and an extension of federal unemployment benefits.
The Democratic-led House now plans to vote on the Senate legislation Tuesday so that President Joe Biden can sign it into law early in the week, according to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. Democrats are racing to pass the package before enhanced unemployment aid lapses on Sunday, March 14.
Passing the Senate version outright avoids the complicated step of trying to sort out differences between the two chambers in conference committee. Though the Senate bill is largely the same as the one passed by the House of Representatives in late February, there are some crucial differences.
The most notable difference between the bill the House passed and the one approved by the Senate is that the latter does not contain a federal minimum wage increase to $15 per hour. Senate Democrats were forced to abandon that provision after the parliamentarian ruled that the chamber could not pass the pay raise for millions of Americans under budget reconciliation.
Democrats in both chambers have passed the American Rescue Plan through reconciliation, a process that allows a party to pass a bill with a simple majority vote but restricts the types of provisions that can be included.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has already made clear that her caucus will “absolutely” pass the Senate bill even if an increase to the minimum wage must be pursued in future legislation. Pelosi, in a statement Saturday, praised the Senate bill as a “tremendous step forward to defeat the virus.”
“Today is a day of great progress and promise for the American people, as the Democratic Senate has passed President Biden’s American Rescue Plan to save lives and livelihoods,” Pelosi said.
“The House now hopes to have a bipartisan vote on this life-saving legislation and urges Republicans to join us in recognition of the devastating reality of this vicious virus and economic crisis and of the need for decisive action,” she said.
Though Pelosi is calling for bipartisan support, Republicans on Capitol Hill almost universally oppose the bill as too expensive even with the minimum wage hike no longer included. Not a single Republican voted for the Senate legislation, and Democrats are unlikely to win converts in the House.
Senate Democrats were forced to make concessions in order to keep moderates in their own ranks on board, namely Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. The legislation now maintains the federal jobless benefit supplement at the current $300 per week, rather than the $400 in the House bill. The change would keep the policy in place through September, rather than end it on Aug. 29 as the House plan did.
Still, House Democrats are expected to have the votes to pass the Senate bill. Biden, in remarks after the Senate vote, said he expects people to start receiving stimulus checks this month.