Politics

Kamala Harris Breaks First-Ever Senate Tie On Biden's $1.9 Trillion COVID-19 Relief Plan

While Biden has advocated for unity and committed to working across the aisle, he is also willing to pass the relief bill without Republican support.

Vice President Kamala Harris attends a ceremonial swearing-in of Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) as President Pro Tempore of the Senate, in the Old Senate Chamber on Capitol Hill on February 4, 2021 in Washington, DC. | Getty Images
Vice President Kamala Harris attends a ceremonial swearing-in of Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) as President Pro Tempore of the Senate, in the Old Senate Chamber on Capitol Hill on February 4, 2021 in Washington, DC. | Getty Images

Vice President Kamala Harris cast her first tie-breaking vote in the Senate early Friday in order to advance President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package. The vote came after the Senate participated in a lengthy “vote-a-rama” starting Thursday afternoon and ultimately cleared a path for Democrats to pass the bill via budget reconciliation as Republicans have refused to support it.

Democrats began the budget reconciliation process to pass Biden’s aid package with a simple majority, meaning they wouldn’t need GOP support given they control both Congressional chambers.

The next step for Democrats is to create the actual reconciliation relief bill, which if passed by both chambers, will land on Biden’s desk for signing. 

The Washington Post reported that “that process will take weeks, with Democrats eyeing mid-March as the deadline for final passage of the relief legislation,” as the current round of enhanced unemployment assistance is set to expire in March. This process will also coincide with former President Trump’s Senate impeachment trial, which is set to begin on February 9.

While Biden has advocated for unity and committed to working across the aisle, many Democrats have cautioned against waiting too long to provide American families relief or caving in to demands that would undercut such relief.

The New York Times reported that Democrats are “haunted by what they see as their miscalculations in 2009, the last time they controlled the government and faced an economic crisis,” citing then-President Obama’s willingness to negotiate with Republicans on the Affordable Care Act for months — which ultimately ended without GOP support and wasted time.

Biden met with Republicans including Sen. Susan Collins of Maine earlier this week to discuss the GOP’s proposed $600 billion alternative relief package, but the White House put out a statement afterwards saying he “will not settle for a package that fails to meet the moment.”

Biden’s $1.9 trillion package includes launching a national vaccination program for COVID-19; giving an additional $1,400 in stimulus checks per person; expanding food stamp assistance; extending the federal eviction moratorium and rent/housing assistance for most of 2021; and providing more support for small businesses. 

During the “vote-a-rama” on Thursday that stretched into Friday, Republicans proposed various amendments, some of which gained bipartisan support, to Biden’s package. In a 99-1 vote, the Senate approved a measure from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Sen. Collins to exclude “upper-income taxpayers” from the next round of relief payments, though it’s unclear who that group would include. 

Biden’s $1.9 trillion package includes launching a national vaccination program for COVID-19; giving an additional $1,400 in stimulus checks per person; expanding food stamp assistance; extending the federal eviction moratorium and rent/housing assistance for most of 2021; and providing more support for small businesses. 

During the “vote-a-rama” on Thursday that stretched into Friday, Republicans proposed various amendments, some of which gained bipartisan support, to Biden’s package. In a 99-1 vote, the Senate approved a measure from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Sen. Collins to exclude “upper-income taxpayers” from the next round of relief payments, though it’s unclear who that group would include. 

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) also proposed an amendment to eliminate raising the federal minimum wage to $15, which is a key progressive element in Biden’s stimulus plan that senators like Bernie Sanders (I-VT) have been promoting for years. The measure passed on a voice vote, and also was not contested by Sanders “because nobody is talking about doubling the federal minimum wage during a pandemic,” he said during the debate.

"It was never my intention to increase the minimum wage to $15 immediately and during the pandemic," Sanders said on the Senate floor. "My legislation gradually increases the minimum wage to $15 an hour over a five-year period and that is what I believe we have got to do."
 

Sanders added that he would “do everything” he could to make sure the five-year increase was included in the relief bill.

In 2017, President Trump used the budget reconciliation process to pass nearly $2 trillion tax cuts that mostly helped businesses and people with higher incomes.

Megan Herschlein contributed to this report.

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