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US Senate approves $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill

The US Senate narrowly approved a $1.9 trillion (€1.6 trillion) COVID-19 relief bill on Saturday as President Joe Biden and his Democratic allies hailed a political victory.

After working all night on a mountain of amendments, exhausted senators approved the plan on a 50-49 party-line vote.

Not a single Republican voted in favour of the bill, criticizing the measure as more expensive than necessary.

“This nation has suffered too much for much too long,” Biden told reporters at the White House after the vote.

“And everything in this package is designed to relieve the suffering and to meet the most urgent needs of the nation, and put us in a better position to prevail.

What’s in the bill?

The massive package provides direct payments of up to $1,400 (€1,175) for most Americans and extended emergency unemployment benefits.

The bill includes spending for COVID-19 vaccines and testing, states and cities, schools and ailing industries, along with tax breaks to help lower-earning people, families with children and consumers buying health insurance.

The measure follows five earlier packages totalling about $4 trillion (€3.36 trillion) that Congress has passed since last spring.

What was at stake for Democrats and Republicans?

Saturday’s vote was a crucial political test for Democrats, who need nothing short of party unanimity in a 50-50 Senate they run because of Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote.

The Senate package was delayed repeatedly as Democrats made last-minuted changes intended to balancing demands by their competing moderate and progressive factions.

The bill faced strong opposition from Republicans.

“The Senate has never spent $2 trillion in a more haphazard way,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican of Kentucky.

“Their top priority wasn’t pandemic relief. It was their Washington wish list.”

What’s next?

The bill now heads to the House — where Democrats have a slim 10-vote edge — for final passage

A small but pivotal band of moderate Democrats leveraged changes in the bill that infuriated progressives, not making it any easier for Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat of California, to guide the measure through the House.

“They feel like we do, we have to get this done,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat of New York., said of the House.

He said he had spoken to Pelosi about the Senate’s changes and added: “It’s not going to be everything everyone wants. No bill is.”

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