Senate is Set to tackle the $1.9 Trillion COVID bill as soon as Wednesday

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Democrats are rushing to pass the Coronavirus relief package into law before March 14.

As soon as Wednesday, the Senate will start moving forward with Biden’s $1.9 Trillion COVID relief package. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer also predicted that the lawmakers might be facing some “late nights ahead” of this week.

However, its parliamentarian still has to rule on a handful of outstanding problems that the massive and expensive legislation addresses. This includes health subsidies directed at keeping laid-off workers on their insurance and pensions.

Given the evenly divided Senate, lawmakers are using a complex tool known as the “budget reconciliation process” to pass the bill without the need to win GOP votes.

Schumer also stated on the floor that he is expecting the Senate for “a hardy debate and some late nights. But the American people sent us here with a job to do, to help the country through this moment of extraordinary challenge.”

In the early hours of Saturday morning, the House passed Biden’s pandemic relief plan. 

Although the bill that was approved in the House includes a provision that would increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour, that provision is already effectively obsolete as of Thursday evening after Senate parliamentarian decided that including the provision in the Senate bill would violate the rules of the chambers. 

Said provision was removed even though progressives were pushing hard for party leaders to amend Senate rules — which effectively require 60 votes to advance most major legislation — in order to keep the $15 minimum wage increase. To support the move, they argue that Democrats must not scale back their ambitions for Biden’s first major legislative package. 

In response to the debate over the inclusion of the minimum wage provision in the bill, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) told reporters, “sets the stage for how effective we’ll be for the rest of the term.”

However, moderates, including Senator of West Virginia Joe Manchin III and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, want to keep the Senate rules in place and are opposed to including such a sharp increase in the minimum wage in the package.

On Monday, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill) stated that passing the Coronavirus relief will now be “less complicated” after the minimum wage provision was removed.

The Senate is set to hold a “vote-a-rama” as part of the reconciliation process. Here, a relatively open-ended process will happen, which will allow any senator to propose an amendment to the COVID relief package. 

Republican members of the Senate are also expected to offer several amendments that will place Democrats on the spot on tough issues.

In response to this, Durbin stated that he plans to push against any amendments that they think will be destructive of the reconciliation process.

When the Senate started the process to consider Biden’s $1.9 Trillion Coronavirus relief package last month, Senate Republicans proposed a non-binding amendment to the budget which would ban undocumented immigrants from receiving stimulus checks. Eight Democratic Senators crossed the party lines and instead voted for GOP’s proposal, angering Democratic groups. 

Meanwhile, Republican Senators criticized Democrats for not negotiating with them on the COVID relief package. On Monday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said that Democrats “have chosen to go a completely partisan route.” 

“This is where we are: a bad process, a bad bill, and a missed opportunity to do right by working families,” McConnell said.

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Due to the lack of support from the Republican party, Democratic Senators have to vote from the entire 50-person caucus in order to pass the Biden plan, with Vice President Kamala Harris being the tiebreaker. The legislation will then be sent back for a second round of consideration in the House, where it is expected to pass.

“We have no time to waste,” Biden said on Saturday at the White House. “If we act now decisively, quickly, and boldly, we can finally get ahead of this virus.”