Fri | Apr 16, 2021

Biden, Dems prevail as Senate OKs $1.9T virus relief bill

Published:Saturday | March 6, 2021 | 6:02 PM
President Joe Biden speaks in the State Dining Room of the White House, Saturday, March 6, 2021, in Washington. The Senate approved a sweeping pandemic relief package over Republican opposition on Saturday, moving Biden closer to a milestone political victory that would provide $1,400 cheques for most Americans and direct billions of dollars to schools, state and local governments, and businesses. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON (AP) — An exhausted Senate narrowly approved a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill Saturday as President Joe Biden and his Democratic allies notched a victory they called crucial for hoisting the country out of the pandemic and economic doldrums.

After labouring all night on a mountain of amendments — nearly all from Republicans and rejected — bleary-eyed senators approved the sprawling package on a 50-49 party-line vote.

That sets up final congressional approval by the House next week so lawmakers can whisk it to Biden for his signature.

The huge measure — its cost is nearly one-tenth the size of the entire US economy — is Biden’s biggest early priority.

It stands as his formula for addressing the deadly virus and a limping economy, twin crises that have afflicted the country for a year.

“This nation has suffered too much for much too long,” Biden told reporters at the White House after the vote.

“And everything in this package is designed to relieve the suffering and to meet the most urgent needs of the nation, and put us in a better position to prevail.”

Saturday’s vote was also a crucial political moment for Biden and Democrats, who need nothing short of party unanimity in a 50-50 Senate they run with Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote.

They hold a slim 10-vote House edge.

Not one Republican backed the bill in the Senate or when it initially passed the House, underscoring the barbed partisan environment that’s characterised the early days of Biden’s presidency.

The bill provides direct payments of up to $1,400 for most Americans and extended emergency unemployment benefits.

There are vast piles of spending for COVID-19 vaccines and testing, states and cities, schools, and ailing industries, along with tax breaks to help lower-earning people, families with children, and consumers buying health insurance.

Republicans call the measure a wasteful spending spree for Democrats’ liberal allies that ignores recent indications that the pandemic and economy were turning the corner.

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