Senate Adopts Blueprint for Stimulus as Harris Breaks Tie
(Bloomberg) -- The Senate voted 51-50, after Vice President Kamala Harris broke her first tie, to adopt a budget blueprint for President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion virus relief package -- following nearly 15 hours of wading through amendments from both parties.
The House had already adopted its budget resolution but will likely have to vote again Friday to agree on the Senate’s language. Once that’s done, Democrats will be able to craft a relief bill in the coming weeks that can pass without any Republican votes under special budget rules — though the White House, moderates like Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and others still say they want a bipartisan final product.
Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders said adoption means help is on the way to those suffering from an “economic collapse.”
“Tonight we can say to them we understand the pain that they are experiencing and we are going to do something about it,” Sanders said.
House and Senate committees would have until Feb. 16 to write the stimulus legislation under the instructions in the budget.
The final action early Friday followed an all-night marathon of votes on amendments known as a vote-a-rama. Most of the non-binding measures were intended more to make points on hot-button issues like taxes, abortion, immigration and schools that had little or sometimes nothing to do with pandemic aid. There were 41 roll call votes during the process.
Democrats mostly held together to beat back the Republican amendments, but on several issues centrist Democrats displayed their clout in the 50-50 Senate and delivered a message to Biden and progressives that they won’t get everything on their wish list.
“This was a giant first step,” Majority Leader Charles Schumer said, noting the vote came exactly one month after two new Democrats were elected in Georgia, handing the majority to his party.
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Democrats did have a series of defections on energy-related amendments, though none supported a proposal aimed at barring a federal carbon tax. That amendment, offered by Republican John Hoeven of North Dakota, failed on a 50-50 vote. Seven Democrats voted to oppose a ban on fracking and two opposed Biden’s decision to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline — potential warning signs as Democrats prepare a package on climate change legislation.
The Senate agreed to amendments against a near-term increase in the minimum wage during the pandemic and against stimulus checks for “upper income” individuals. While non-binding, these could prefigure a delay in the wage phase in or a tighter cap in who gets checks.
The latter amendment, a bipartisan proposal from Manchin and Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, sought to prevent upper-income people from receiving government stimulus payments. They argued it didn’t make sense for $1,400 checks to go to wealthier families, though their amendment didn’t specify a particular income level. It passed 99-1, with only Kentucky Republican Rand Paul in opposition.
The adoption of the budget, assured by the presence of Harris, marked the clearest sign yet of the Democratic takeover of the Senate, even if it’s by the slimmest margin. No Republican has yet backed anything close to the $1.9 trillion sought by Biden, with many in the GOP pivoting to austerity politics as they did in 2009 with a Democrat sitting in the Oval Office.
Republicans complained Biden was taking a partisan stance while spurning a $600 billion offer from 10 of their senators.
Democrats held firm against efforts to tie school funding to reopening schools, arguing the whole point of the money is to help schools safely reopen in the first 100 days of Biden’s presidency.
The non-binding amendments can set the stage for follow-on action — or campaign ads against senators in future elections.
One immigration amendment by Ted Cruz split the GOP, with 60 senators blocking his proposal opposing an expansion of work-related visas until the economy fully recovers. That could signal a slim possibility of reaching a bipartisan immigration deal later this year — a major Biden priority.
Just before final adoption, the Senate stripped out three amendments -- on the Keystone pipeline, fracking and banning stimulus checks for undocumented immigrants. Those measures could have caused the budget to lose votes in the House.
Lawmakers clustered in tight groups on the Senate floor as they talked and debated policy. It was a scene reminiscent of last year’s impeachment trial of then-President Donald Trump and one that foreshadowed his second trial, set to begin in less than a week.
The pandemic that has continued to rage around the country seemed an afterthought but for the masks that all but one of 100 senators wore. The exception was Paul.
Some of the senators on the floor were experiencing their first vote-a-rama after taking office this year: Bill Hagerty of Tennessee, John Hickenlooper of Colorado, Mark Kelly of Arizona, Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Roger Marshall of Kentucky, Alex Padilla of California, Tommy Tuberville of Alabama and Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock of Georgia.
Democrats are already planning another budget reconciliation package later this year for other items, including on climate legislation.
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