The Senate will move forward as soon as Wednesday on President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer predicting Monday that the chamber would face “some late nights” ahead this week.
Democrats are racing to pass the Covid aid package into law before March 14, when boosted federal unemployment benefits expire. Given the evenly divided Senate, they are using a complex tool known as budget reconciliation process to pass the bill without the need to win GOP votes.
Schumer said on the floor he expects the Senate is in for “a hardy debate and some late nights. But the American people sent us here with a job to do, to help the country through this moment of extraordinary challenge.”
The House passed Biden’s pandemic relief plan in the early hours of Saturday morning. While that House-approved legislation would increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour, the provision is effectively dead during the Senate debate after its parliamentarian determined Thursday evening that including a hike in the Senate bill would violate the chamber’s rules.
The Senate could begin consideration of the package as early as Wednesday. However, its parliamentarian still needs to rule on a handful of outstanding issues that the massive legislation addresses, including health subsidies aimed at keeping laid off workers on their insurance and pensions.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Monday that passing the coronavirus relief legislation will be “less complicated” now that minimum wage can no longer be included.
As part of the reconciliation process, the Senate is set to hold a “vote-a-rama,” a relatively open-ended process that allows any senator to offer an amendment to the coronavirus relief package. Senate Republicans are expected to offer several amendments that attempt to put Democrats on the spot on tough issues.
Durbin said that he plans to whip against “any amendments that we think will be destructive of the reconciliation process.”
When the Senate kicked off the process to consider Biden’s coronavirus relief package last month, Senate Republicans offered a non-binding amendment to the budget that would prohibit undocumented immigrants from receiving stimulus checks. Eight Senate Democrats crossed party lines to vote for the measure, angering progressive groups.
Senate Republicans have criticized Democrats for not negotiating with them on the coronavirus relief package and blasted the legislation as not sufficiently targeted. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Monday that Democrats “have chosen to go a completely partisan route.”
“This is where we are: a bad process, a bad bill and a missed opportunity to do right by working families,” McConnell said.
Given the lack of GOP support, Senate Democrats will likely need votes from the entire 50-person caucus to pass the Biden plan, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tiebreaker. The legislation will then be sent back for a second round of consideration in the House, where it’s expected to pass.
Burgess Everett contributed to this report.