US Senate passes President Joe Biden’s $US1.9 trillion COVID-19 bill, but no change to minimum wage



The US Senate has passed President Joe Biden’s $US1.9 trillion ($2.5 trillion) COVID-19 relief plan in a party-line vote after an all-night session.

The final bill includes $US400 billion ($520 billion) in one-off payments of $1,800 to most Americans, $390 a week in extended jobless benefits for the 9.5 million people thrown out of work in the crisis, and $455 billion in aid to state and local governments.

The Senate voted 50–49, with no Republicans voting in favour, on what would be one of the largest stimulus packages in US history.

Several Republicans left the chamber immediately after the vote, while senator Bernie Sanders fist-bumped Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

The fight is not over as the bill needs to return to the House of Representatives, which approved a slightly different version a week earlier.

The standoff within the Democratic party over the jobless benefits and the all-night effort by Republicans to amend the bill illustrated the difficulty Mr Biden will face in pushing other policies through a Congress that Democrats control by the narrowest of majorities.

The bill is a priority for Mr Biden as the country battles a pandemic that has killed more than 520,000 Americans.

An old man in a suit wears a face mask as he looks off camera.
Republican have previously supported COVID stimulus packages, but they criticise President Joe Biden’s relief plan as too expensive.(AP: Patrick Semansky)

Move to double minimum wage rejected

The chamber set a record in its longest single vote in the modern era — 11 hours and 50 minutes — as Democrats negotiated a compromise on unemployment benefits.

The extended unemployment payments, which are to be paid out on top of state jobless benefits, proved to be the most contentious part of the bill.

The House bill had set the supplemental benefit at $520 a week, but Senate Democrats finally agreed to knock that down to $390.

The House bill also featured a measure to more than double the minimum wage to $US15 ($19.5) per hour, which the Senate also rejected.

Moderate Democrats feared that the higher jobless benefits and minimum wage hike would overheat the economy and hurt businesses in rural states.

Senate Democrats used a process called reconciliation to pass the measure with a simple majority rather than the 60 of 100 votes normally required under the chamber’s rules.

A large classic building with a large dome atop sits against a blue dusk sky while the red, white and blue US flag flies.
Vice-President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote wasn’t needed to get the bill over the line.(AP: J. Scott Applewhite)

It was unclear whether Democrats will try to use that manoeuvre on other policy goals such as legislation dealing with climate change and immigration.

One Republican, Daniel Sullivan of Alaska, left Washington on Friday night for a family funeral, meaning that Democrats did not need Vice-President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote in the normally 50–50 chamber.

Republicans have broadly supported previous stimulus packages to fight the virus and revive the economy.

But with Democrats in charge of the White House and both chambers of Congress, Republicans have criticised this bill as too expensive.

The country has yet to replace 9.5 million jobs lost since last year and the White House said it could take years to do so.

Washington received unexpected good news on Friday after data showed that US employment surged in February, adding 379,000 jobs, significantly higher than many economists had expected.



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