It is now a fairly safe assumption that the administration’s stupendous $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill will be on the president’s desk awaiting Joe Biden’s signature by Monday evening or Tuesday morning. On March 4, an effort by Senate Republicans to hold up a vote on the bill was brought to an end when the chamber approved a motion to proceed on a party-line vote – the 50-50 tie being broken in Democrats’ favor by Kamala Harris.Mitch McConnell
The motion to proceed sets up a maximum of 20 hours for debate before a Senate procedure, marvelously known as a “vote-a-rama,” gets underway. The full 20 hours are unlikely to be used since each party is allowed up to ten hours. Democrats are unlikely to use much or any of their time, except, perhaps, for some final showboating.
A Parade of Pet Projects
A deluge of Republican-proposed amendments to the legislation will be decided during this vote-a-rama before the Senate votes to send the back to the House of Representatives for final approval and transmission to the Oval Office.
The Senate bill is not that much different from the version passed by the House, though there are two notable changes. A provision that would have increased the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour has been scrapped, much to the dismay of progressives. Also, the upper-income threshold at which the next stimulus payments to Americans will be phased out has been lowered from $100,000 a year for individuals ($200,000 a year for couples) to $75,000 a year, or $150,000 for couples.
Republicans argue that the bill is bloated and wasteful and that a great deal of the proposed spending has little or nothing to do with COVID-19 relief. “This isn’t a pandemic rescue package,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), “it’s a parade of left-wing pet projects that they are ramming through during the pandemic.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has vowed to keep the chamber in session until the bill is passed. The final vote is likely to take place sometime during the afternoon or evening of March 6. Faced with an evenly split Senate, Democrats have chosen to use reconciliation to get the bill through Congress.
Bills dealing with spending or taxation normally require 60 votes to pass the Senate but, under reconciliation, a bill can be tailored to comply with budgetary requirements and can then be passed by a simple majority. This is why the Senate parliamentarian recently nixed the Democrats’ minimum wage hike from the bill. The Democrat leadership chose not to stand its ground on that issue precisely so that they could use reconciliation to ram this massive spending spree through the Senate.
Once again, the tie-breaking vote could be cast by Harris, in her role as president of the Senate, though at least one Republican – Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, may cross the aisle to give Democrats the simple majority they need.
Read more from Graham J. Noble.