Democrats push forward with $1.9 trillion COVID relief package

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In this image from Senate TV, Vice President Kamala Harris sits in the chair on the Senate floor to cast the tie-breaking vote, her first, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021 at the Capitol in Washington.

The Senate has approved a budget resolution that will allow for the creation of a roughly $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, the resolution will now return to the House for another vote since several amendments were added during an overnight “vote-a-rama.”

The resolution was passed on a party-line vote, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting her first tie-breaking vote, and now Democrats in the House are expected to approve the resolution on Friday. Then committees in each chamber can get to work to take the resolution’s reconciliation instructions and write relevant bills that will be brought together to create a sweeping package along the lines of what President Joe Biden has proposed.

Nearly 900 GOP amendments were offered overall, with just a fraction actually considered. The added amendments, though, are not binding on the committees.

Still, several of the amendments were bipartisan and passed with overwhelmingly bipartisan votes. That puts pressure on those panels to include the changes as legislation is written.

Among those that passed overwhelmingly was support for restaurants and bars (a 90-10 vote). The proposal from Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., would set up what’s expected to be a $25 billion grant fund that would extend a lifeline to the still-struggling food and beverage service industry.

Also, an amendment limiting who gets $1,400 stimulus checks was passed 99-1. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, won approval for their measure that seeks to limit higher-income households from receiving those $1,400 direct payments, though no income threshold was stated.

Biden has also embraced limiting those who get a payment this time around, but he and his aides have insisted that the maximum amount of payments remain in place. This — combined with the $600 Americans already received in the last bill — would keep a campaign promise to get $2,000 in relief out to needy Americans.

And in a potential blow to progressives who have fought for years to boost the federal minimum wage, the Senate approved a measure by Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, rejecting that increase to $15 an hour during a pandemic. The measure was a centerpiece of Biden’s COVID-19 relief plan. But Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders said that his proposal to hike the wage from its current $7.25 would be phased in over five years, and therefore likely occurring well outside the pandemic.

The measure could still be included in a final budget reconciliation rule, but a number of budget experts think the minimum-wage increase will not survive the strict rules surrounding the use of the fast-track budgetary process.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appeared to acknowledge the rough road ahead for the wage hike, telling reporters, “It’s not the last bill we’ll pass…This is the rescue package.”

The goal is to get a final bill to Biden’s desk before federal jobless benefits expire on March 14. (By Trish Turner / ABC News)

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