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Vice President Kamala Harris on Thursday broke a 50-50 Senate tie to begin debate on President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill.
Debate on the bill, which would grant $1,400 stimulus checks to most Americans, is expected to drag into the weekend before a final vote.
“On this vote the yays are 50, the nays are 50. The Senate being equally divided, the vice president votes in the affirmative and the motion to proceed is agreed to,” Harris said.
It was Harris’ second tie-breaking vote. She previously broke a tie last month when the Senate approved preliminary guidance to committees drafting the bill.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) is forcing the full bill to be read before the Senate holds a “vote-a-rama” on amendments. The bill reading alone is expected to take about 10 hours.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Harris shared a laugh during her brief appearance on Capitol Hill when he accidentally called her “Mr. President” before quickly correcting himself to “Madam President,” referring to her Senate role.
The bill passed the House last week and Senate Democrats, who can pass the bill with a bare majority under budget reconciliation rules, developed a set of changes before debate began — most notably including a decision to lower the income cap for stimulus checks to $80,000, down from $100,000, to satisfy more conservative Democrats.
On Thursday, additional tweaks were announced, including an extra $200 million in funding for Amtrak and a new $175 million fund for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
The Senate parliamentarian forbade some items from the House-passed bill, including ruling that budget reconciliation rules mean the Senate cannot use the bill to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour.
On Tuesday, the Senate parliamentarian struck down a $140 million rail project near House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco district that Republicans decried as unrelated to the pandemic and nixed $1.5 million for the Seaway International Bridge in Massena, New York.
The bill includes $350 billion in state and local aid and provides a $1,400 stimulus payment for each dependent child. It grants through August a $400-per-week federal unemployment insurance subsidy.
Republicans largely say the bill is unnecessary and wasteful, highlighting that much of the funds won’t be spent until the pandemic is over. For example, the bill contains $129 billion for K-12 schools, but the Congressional Budget Office estimates that about 95 percent won’t be spent in 2021, in part because funds approved for schools last year haven’t been spent.
The bill includes $75 billion for vaccination, testing and other pandemic medical supplies.
For parents, it also authorizes a $3,600 annual tax credit per child under age 6 and $3,000 per child up to age 17. Those funds also are phased out for earners over $75,000 or joint filers above $150,000. A family of four earning less than $150,000 could bank more than $14,000 from the bill, according to an analysis from CNBC.
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