Biden Urges Senate to Back $1.9T Bill 03/03 06:23
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Joe Biden urged Senate Democrats to rally
behind a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill and stood by his proposed $1,400
payments to individuals, even as some party moderates sought to dial back parts
of the package.
"He said we need to pass this bill and pass it soon. That's what the
American people sent us here to do, and we have to get America the help it
needs," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters,
describing a 20-minute conference call Biden had with Democratic senators
The president's cry for unity came as Democrats, with no votes to spare in a
50-50 Senate, sorted through lingering divisions over the emerging bill. Those
included moderates' efforts to focus spending more narrowly on those hardest
hit by the deadly pandemic and resulting economic contraction.
Biden took to Twitter to signal he wouldn't budge from his demand that
lawmakers add a fresh $1,400 payment to the $600 that millions of individuals
received from a December relief measure. That new installment comprises nearly
a quarter of the overall bill's cost.
"The fact is that $600 is not enough. The Senate needs to pass the American
Rescue Plan and finish the job of delivering $2,000 in direct relief," Biden
wrote in one of his infrequent uses of a medium his predecessor, Donald Trump,
at times used over 100 times daily.
The huge relief package is a too-big-to-fail moment for the fledging
president, who would be politically staggered if Congress --- controlled
narrowly by Democrats but controlled nonetheless --- failed to deliver.
Conquering the virus that's killed half a million Americans and flung the
economy and countless lives into tailspins is Biden's top initial priority.
So far, Republicans are following the template they set during Barack
Obama's presidency. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he
hoped GOP senators would oppose the bill unanimously, as their House
counterparts did early Saturday when that chamber approved its version of the
McConnell accused Democrats of ignoring signs that the economy and the
deadly virus' rampage were beginning to turn around and shunning Republicans.
Biden met with 10 GOP senators last month who presented a $600 billion plan
one-third the size of his own, but efforts to find middle ground went nowhere.
"The new administration made a conscious effort to jam us," McConnell told
reporters. "We'll be fighting this in every way that we can."
Democrats are using special rules that will let them avoid GOP filibusters
that would require them to garner an impossible 60 votes to approve the
The Senate bill was expected to largely mirror the House-approved package,
with the most glaring divergence the Senate's dropping of language boosting the
federal minimum wage to $15 hourly.
Schumer said Senate debate would commence as soon as Wednesday and
predicted, "We'll have the votes we need to pass the bill." Democrats want to
send a final package to Biden by March 14, when an earlier round of emergency
jobless benefits expires.
The bill has hundreds of billions of dollars for schools and colleges,
COVID-19 vaccines and testing, mass transit systems, renters and small
businesses. It also has money for child care, tax breaks for families with
children and assistance for states willing to expand Medicaid coverage for
Two people said Biden told Democrats they must sometimes accept provisions
in a large measure that they don't like. And it was clear there were still
West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, perhaps the Senate's most conservative
Democrat, said he wanted to pare the bill's $400 weekly emergency unemployment
benefit to $300. That's the same amount Congress approved last December --- on
top of regular state benefits --- and Manchin said the higher figure would
discourage people from returning to work.
"It would be awful for the doors to open up and there's no one working,"
Manchin said of businesses reopening. Top Democrats and progressives oppose
trimming those benefits, but Schumer suggested a final decision awaited,
saying, "They're discussing it."
Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said he wants the bill's $350 billion for state
and local governments to specify minimum amounts for municipal governments and
has called for $50 billion to improve broadband coverage.
Despite every Democrats' huge leverage because all their votes are needed,
none have so far threatened to sink the legislation if they don't get their
way. All are aware of how that would rattle Biden's presidency and Democrats'
ability to be productive during this Congress.
"We want to get the biggest, strongest bill that can pass, and that's what
we're going to do," Schumer said.
There were indications loose ends were falling into place. In one sign, 11
Democratic senators wrote Biden urging him to use a huge, upcoming
infrastructure bill to create regularly paid relief and jobless benefits that
would be automatically triggered by economic conditions.
Some progressives had wanted those payments included in the COVID-19 bill.
Democrats' push to include it in later legislation suggested an effort to
satisfy progressives while avoiding jeopardizing the current package.
Progressives, though, were still smarting over the virtual certainty that
the Senate bill will lack the minimum wage boost, up from $7.25 hourly locked
in since 2009.
The chamber's nonpartisan parliamentarian said last week that including that
increase violated Senate budget rules. Opposition by moderates including
Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., has left Democrats without the votes
needed to salvage it.
A fundraising email by Our Revolution, a progressive political committee
that was started by backers of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., underscored the
left's anger. Sanders is chief Senate sponsor of the wage increase.
"The politician standing in the way of change is Vice President Kamala
Harris," said the email, citing the possibility --- already rejected by the
White House --- of her casting a tie-breaking Senate vote to overrule the
parliamentarian. It said the organization will "hold her accountable if she
decides to turn her back on essential workers."
Senate drafters of the legislation also stripped out a small provision that
would have provided $1.5 million for maintaining and operating a bridge in
upstate New York connecting the U.S. and Canada. The funding was removed after
some Republican lawmakers had criticized it as an example of a wasteful
spending item that should not be part of the COVID relief bill.
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