The United States Senate voted to pass the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan on Saturday, bringing much-needed relief to millions of Americans one step closer to reality, and delivering President Joe Biden his first major legislative victory of his presidency.
“I promised the American people that help is on the way,” President Biden said after the bill was passed. “Today, I can say we’ve taken one more giant step forward in delivering on that promise.”
“When I was elected, I said I was going to get the government out of the business of battling on Twitter and back in the business of governing for the people,” Biden added. “Passing the American Rescue Plan will do that.”
Biden praised the efforts of Senate Democrats and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (“When the country needed you most, Chuck, you led.”), as well as the American people “for making all this possible.”
“How did they make it possible? Quite frankly, without the overwhelming, bipartisan support of the American people, this would not have happened,” the president continued.
“The bottom line is this: this plans puts us on a path to beating the virus,” Biden added. “And one more thing: This plan is historic.”
After debating dozens of amendments through the night, the Senate passed the measure along party lines in a 50-49 vote – all 50 Democrats, including moderate Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who was at the center of a disagreement over extending emergency jobless benefits. Not a single Republican senator voted in favor of the bill.
Vice President Kamala Harris was not needed to break the tie because Alaska GOP Sen. Dan Sullivan was not in attendance – Sullivan left D.C. for Alaska on Friday due to the passing of his father-in-law.
“We tell the American people, help is on the way,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said. “Our job right now is to help our country get from this stormy present to that hopeful future.”
Republicans opposed the bill, lambasting it as wasteful spending.
“The Senate has never spent $2 trillion in a more haphazard way,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), adding of Democrats: “Their top priority wasn’t pandemic relief. It was their Washington wish list.”
The bill, which would provide $1,400 direct stimulus checks to most Americans and an extension of federal unemployment benefits, as well as funding for states and local governments, as well as COVID-19 vaccines and testing, now heads back to the House for a final vote on the Senate’s version of the measure.
“It’s going to make a big difference in so many lives in this country,” Biden said, noting that stimulus checks will start to go out this month.
President Biden also celebrated the fact that the bill will cut child poverty in half, notably by expanding a child tax credit program to more families and increasing the tax credit.
“This plan is going to make it possible to cut child poverty in half,” Biden said. “Let me say it again. It’s significant, historic. It will cut child poverty in half.”
“There are brighter days ahead, there really are,” Biden said. “As I’ve said before, it’s never a good bet to bet against America. It’s never been a good bet to bet against the American people. We are America. We’re going to get there.”
The House will vote on the bill Tuesday, according to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD).
“The Senate has now passed President Biden’s American Rescue Plan to provide long-awaited relief to Americans suffering from the economic impacts of COVID-19 and to boost our capacity to save lives by ramping up the deployment of testing and vaccines. The help that so many of our people have been waiting for during months of Republican inaction is one step closer,” Hoyer said in a statement Saturday.
In a floor speech after the vote, Schumer thanked “the great floor staff, the clerks, the cafeteria workers, the custodial staff, and the Capitol Police,” to thunderous applause and a standing ovation. “Many of them have worked for as many as 36 hours straight.”
In a press conference after the vote, Schumer said that President Biden called the Majority Leader and told him “I knew we would get this done.” Biden is expected to speak about the bill later Saturday, according to a senior White House official.
“He put together a great plan,” Schumer said of Biden. “It was just right – strong and deep, but also very popular so we have the strength to get it done even if we had to do it with just our own 50 votes.”
Many thanked Georgia voters and the state’s two Democratic senators, believing that if Sens. Jon Ossoff (D-GA) and Rev. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) did not win their runoff elections in January, the Senate would not have been able to pass such a robust relief bill.
“There is no question that the people of Georgia deserve a great deal of credit for what happened here today,” Sen. Warnock told reporters. “We simply would not be here.”
“This is the most significant economic relief package for working- & middle-class families in American history.” Sen. Ossoff said in a statement through a spokesperson. “We will crush COVID-19, recover economically, safely re-open our schools, and get our daily lives back — and we’ll do it thanks to GA voters.”
“Nobody said passing one of the largest, perhaps the most significant, bill to help the poor and working people in decades was going to be easy, particularly with 50 votes. But it is done,” Schumer said, adding about his caucus: “I love each one of them.”
“Unity, unity, unity. That’s how we got this done,” Schumer said, despite Friday’s delays that nearly threatened to derail the bill.
After the first amendment – an increase to the $15 federal minimum wage introduced by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) – failed, proceedings stalled.
Democrats debated as a deal they thought they’d reached between progressives and moderates over unemployment benefits threatened to crumble. Nearly 12 hours later, top Democrats and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, perhaps the chamber’s most conservative Democrat, said they had a deal and the Senate approved it on a party-line 50-49 vote.
Under their compromise, $300 weekly emergency unemployment checks — on top of regular state benefits — would be renewed, with a final payment made Oct. 6. There would also be tax breaks on some of those payments, helping people the pandemic abruptly tossed out of jobs and risked tax penalties on the benefits.
The House’s relief bill, largely similar to the Senate’s, provided $400 weekly benefits through August. The current $300 per week payments expire March 14, and Democrats want the bill on Biden’s desk by then to avert a lapse.
Manchin and Republicans have asserted that higher jobless benefits discourage people from returning to work, a rationale most Democrats and many economists reject.
“We just had to negotiate,” Manchin told reporters Saturday. “That’s the whole thing. The bad thing about reconciliation is there’s not really time to really work things out and negotiate a lot. So we started negotiating, it took longer than it should have, but we got it done and we got a better deal.”
Democratic leaders and the White House also agreed to restrict eligibility for the $1,400 stimulus checks, phasing out payments for people with higher-incomes after pushback for more “targeted” spending.
Originally, individuals earning up to $75,000 – and couples up to $150,000 – would get $1,400 checks per person. The version the House approved over the weekend would gradually phase down those amounts and disappear completely for individuals making $100,000 and couples earning $200,000. But under the new agreement, those checks would end for individuals making $80,000 and couples earning $160,000.
After agreeing on unemployment benefits, the Senate began to take up a variety of amendments in rapid-fire fashion, mostly presented by Republicans.
The amendments included one from Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) to replace the bill with a $650 billion version, a measure from Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) asking for more transparency on nursing home investigations related to COVID deaths, an amendment that tied school reopening targets to funding from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), and a proposal from Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana that would have President Biden approve the Keystone XL pipeline.
All of these amendments failed. Sen. Tester’s Keystone XL pipeline amendment got 51 votes, but under the filibuster rules, amendments need 60 to pass.
During one particularly contentious exchange on Saturday, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), the no. 2 Democrat in the Senate, angrily rebuked Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who proposed an amendment to block undocumented immigrants from receiving $1,400 checks – something that was not happening to begin with.
“The statement of the Senator from Texas is just plain false,” Durbin said. “False.”
“Let me be clear: Undocumented immigrants do not have social security numbers, and they do not qualify for stimulus relief checks. Period,” Durbin continued. “And just in case you didn’t notice, they didn’t qualify in December, when 92 of us voted for that measure, and they don’t qualify under the American Rescue Plan.”
“Nothing has changed. And for you to stand up there and say the opposite is just to rile people up over something that’s not true,” Durbin concluded, before refusing to yield to a question from Cruz.
“It is not true. And we know what’s going on here. They want to be able to give speeches to say that checks go to undocumented people,” Durbin said, firmly adding: “No money going to undocumented people under the American Rescue Plan.”
Congress appears on track to send the bill to President Biden’s desk ahead of a March 14 deadline when federal unemployment benefits are set to expire.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.