President Joe Biden promised he and Democrats in Congress will “act fast” to finalize his $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief plan after the Senate worked through the night to pass a budgetary measure that would allow Democrats to bypass the filibuster and pass the package with a simple majority. Vice President Kamala Harris cast the deciding vote.
“A lot of folks are losing hope,” Biden said in a speech at the White House on Friday. “I believe the American people are looking right now to their government for help, to do our job, to not let them down. So I’m going to act. I’m going to act fast. I’d like to be doing it with the support of Republicans… they’re just not willing to go as far as I think we have to go.”
The Senate worked through the night on the budget measure, voting on 40 different amendments. Senate Republicans tried to add amendments limiting what Democrats want to do, although most of their proposals failed. Some did pass with bipartisan support, including an amendment from Democratic Senator Joe Manchin and Republican Senator Susan Collins that endorsed preventing “upper-income citizens” from receiving stimulus checks, but they did not define what qualifies as upper-income. Another successful amendment, introduced by Republican Senator Joni Ernst, sought to stop Democrats from increasing the federal minimum wage during the pandemic, although that could change in the reconciliation process.
The budget outline passed by the Senate early Friday morning was also passed by the House on Friday afternoon in a 219-209 vote. No Republicans joined the Democrats in passing the budget, and one Democrat opposed it. It will next go to House committees, which will draft bills that will be assembled into an omnibus reconciliation bill. If that bill passes both chambers, it goes to the president. Biden said that he is hoping to sign a final package before March 15, when enhanced unemployment benefits expire.
Asked whether the final relief bill would pass Congress ahead of the mid-March deadline, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Friday, “Absolutely. Before then.”
“I know some in Congress think we’ve already done enough to deal with the crisis in the country,” Biden said in his speech. “Others think that things are getting better and we can afford to sit back and either do little or do nothing at all. That’s not what I see. I see enormous pain in this country. A lot of folks out of work. A lot of folks going hungry.”
Indeed, unemployment remains high, and even though the January jobs report showed declining unemployment, that is more of a result of people leaving the workforce than people getting new jobs. And food banks are still overwhelmed with demand. According to Feeding America, one in four children experienced food insecurity in 2020.
“We do have the tools to reduce a lot of suffering in this country. We just have to choose to use them,” Biden concluded.