Senate OKs budget resolution for Biden’s COVID-19 aid bill

Vice President Kamala Harris walks at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday. Early Friday, she cast a tiebreaker vote to pass a Senate resolution that allows Democrats to pass President Joe Biden's coronavirus relief bill. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI

WASHINGTON, DC, Feb. 5 (UPI) — After a marathon overnight session, Senate Democrats voted early Friday to pass a budget resolution for President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 aid package, a key step that will allow them to pass the proposal without Republican support.

The resolution passed by a vote of 51 to 50. Vice President Kamala Harris, the Senate president, cast the tie-breaking vote.

The vote came after a flurry of proposed amendments from Republicans. The budget resolution process, which requires just a simple majority in the Senate, has strict rules in what items could be considered to get around a filibuster.

An increase in the minimum wage to $15 per hour, was not part of the Senate’s approved resolution. The raise is part of Biden’s proposal, but the Senate voted to block it by one vote from moderate Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who has often voted with Republicans.

“I personally support an increase in the minimum wage, not to $15, but I think we need one,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. “But it doesn’t belong in the COVID. [The minimum wage increase is] not relevant to treatment or the economic recovery, or getting vaccines out.”

Another amendment to exclude higher-income Americans from receiving $1,400 stimulus payments was overwhelmingly approved, but that provision is not binding in the overall relief package.

Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, called the amendments process overnight a “vote-a-rama” and said Republicans were attempting nothing but political posturing.

“We need to remember what this is all about,” Schatz said. “This is not about a goofy 10-hour or 12-hour or 15-hour process where we stack amendments and try to set each other up, that we’ll somehow trick someone into taking a bad position that can be turned into a campaign advertisement.”

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell acknowledged that, through the amendments, he wanted to get Democrats on the record for multiple controversial issues, like ending construction for the Keystone XL pipeline.

The Senate ended up taking 41 different votes during the overnight session. The minimum wage issue could return for consideration if the House keeps it. House Democrats said they did not know if the issue qualifies for reconciliation.

“We’re very strongly in favor of raising the minimum wage and we hope it does qualify for the reconciliation because, as you know, the Republicans tend not to be for raising the minimum wage,” House Democratic leader Steny Hoyer said.

Biden has said he prefers bipartisan support for his proposal, the American Rescue Plan, but he and several Democrats have also said they will move it forward without GOP support if necessary.

His plan also includes $160 billion for coronavirus testing and vaccine distribution and funding for state and local governments and to help schools reopen.

The House passed a version of the legislation earlier this week and must now pass the new Senate version because of the changes. That vote could happen Friday. Meanwhile, committees in both chambers are working on other aspects of Biden’s plan.

Democrats are attempting to pass the relief legislation through a process called budget reconciliation, which requires only a simple majority in the Senate instead of a 60-vote supermajority.


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