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Senate Moves Forward With Vote On COVID-19 Relief Bill


President Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package has passed the Senate on a party-line vote.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: The yeas are 50. The nays are 49. The bill as amended is passed.


SIMON: Democrats at times disagreed on the details, but Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the bill would speed up America's recovery from the pandemic.


CHUCK SCHUMER: And someday soon, our businesses will reopen, our economy will reopen, and life will reopen.

SIMON: NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis has been there for just about all of it, watching - or has been watching all of it. Thanks very much for joining us, Susan.


SIMON: This passage has packed - has passed after some drama yesterday, in which Democrats had to scramble to make sure they had the votes to extend unemployment benefits, which reminded us again of the power of certain senators in this narrow 50-50 majority.

DAVIS: That's right. You know, they had to hold open a vote for nearly 12 hours yesterday, actually setting a new Senate record in the meantime, because they didn't have the votes locked up when they went to the floor. Senator Joe Manchin - he's a moderate from West Virginia - wasn't on board with his party's plan to extend unemployment benefits, and he was threatening to vote with Republicans on a competing proposal. They eventually came up with a deal to tweak the unemployment benefits, to shorten how long they're going to be available for by about a month, and that got Manchin back on board. Manchin, though, is like a lot of Republicans. He thought the benefit was too generous, now with the economy turning around and the fact that vaccines should be widely available by early summer to help get people back to work.

SIMON: The Senate made some significant changes to the version that the House passed. What were they?

DAVIS: Most notably, they scrapped the plan for a $15 federal minimum wage that was passed by the House. It violated Senate budget rules, but it also just didn't have the support it needed in the Senate to pass anyway. They've tightened the income limits for those $1,400 stimulus checks that will be going out soon. And it'll start to phase out for individuals now who make over $75,000 and families making over $150,000. It also made extended unemployment benefits less generous. They were reduced from $400 a week to $300 a week, and they'll expire now just a few days after Labor Day.

SIMON: Sue, all the previous coronavirus relief packages had bipartisan support when they passed last year. No - not a single Republican vote for this one. What's the difference?

DAVIS: You know, I think there's a simple political answer here. It's that Republicans don't control any of the levers in power in Washington anymore, and they don't have the same interest in delivering a victory for the president. On the substance of it, Republicans didn't see this bill as a coronavirus relief package. They saw it more as Democrats seeing a path to enact policies they've been wanting to do for years. And in many regards, they have a point. Democrats would even say that's true. They don't really deny that they see this bill as an opportunity to shift economic priorities and experiment with Democratic policy ideas in ways they think will help people. Politically, broadly, this bill is really popular, and that's what President Biden's message has been to lawmakers, saying, look; it might not be popular in Congress, but the country really wants this.

SIMON: Changes means, though, that the House is going to have to vote again. When will that happen?

DAVIS: They'll vote on Tuesday. They want to get it to Biden by March 14 before unemployment benefits expire. There'll be some griping from progressives, but it's expected to pass. Big picture here, Scott - this is a nearly $2 trillion bill. It's the largest standalone economic stimulus package in American history.

SIMON: NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis, thanks so much.

DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.
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