It took US Senate almost 12 hours on Saturday to pass President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief plan as Democrats battled themselves over jobless aid and the Republican minority took time to push through some three dozen amendments.
The upper house of the Congress set a record in its longest single vote in the modern era — 11 hours and 50 minutes — as Democrats debated unemployment benefits to satisfy centrists like Senator Joe Manchin.
The approved bill includes $400 billion in one-time payments of $1,400 to most Americans, $300 a week in extended jobless benefits for the 9.5 million people thrown out of work in the crisis, and $350 billion in aid to state and local governments that have seen the pandemic blow a hole in their budgets.
The extended unemployment payments, which are to be paid out on top of jobless benefits, was the most contentious part of the bill. The bill passed by the House had set the supplemental benefit at $400 a week, but Senate Democrats agreed to reduce it to $300.
The bill adopted by the House also featured a measure to more than double the minimum wage to $15 per hour, but the Senate also rejected it.
Moderate Democrats feared that the higher jobless benefits and minimum wage hike would burden the economy and hurt businesses in rural states.
Senate Democrats used a process called reconciliation to pass the measure with a simple majority rather than the 60 of 100 votes normally required under the chamber’s rules.
It was unclear whether Democrats will try to use that maneuver on other policy goals such as legislation dealing with climate change and immigration.
The Senate voted 50-49, with no Republicans supporting what would be one of the largest stimulus packages in US history.
Democrats burst into applause on passage of the bill and Senator Bernie Sanders fist-bumped Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
As the Senate was about to vote, Schumer said the bill was the prescription for getting the upper hand against a pandemic that has killed more than 520,000 people across the country and upended most aspects of American life.
Republicans supported previous stimulus packages to fight the virus and revive the economy. They criticised the bill as too expensive.
The US has yet to replace 9.5 million jobs lost since last year and the White House says it could take years to do so.
However, there was an unexpected good news on Friday of some recovery after data showed that employment surged in February – an addition of 379,000 jobs — significantly higher than economists had expected.
Meanwhile, President Biden hailed the Senate passage in remarks from the White House Saturday afternoon, touting his plan’s widespread public support even if it didn’t earn any Republican votes.