Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan is one step closer to becoming law.
After a grueling effort by Senate Democratic to bring the legislation to a vote on final passage — which, maddeningly, involved placating West Virginia’s power drunken Senator Joe Manchin — the massive, badly needed COVID-19 relief bill got a green light to go back to the House of Representatives.
With Alaska’s United States Senator Dan Sullivan absent, Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote was not needed to pass the bill. All fifty Democratic senators voted for it, while the other forty-nine Republicans voted against it.
The roll call from the Pacific Northwest was, consequently, along party lines.
Voting Aye: Democratic Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell (WA), Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley (OR), Jon Tester (MT)
Voting Nay: Republican Senators Jim Risch and Mike Crapo (ID), Steve Daines (MT), Lisa Murkowski (AK)
Not Voting: Republican Senator Dan Sullivan (AK)
The nearly $2 trillion bill would make important and badly needed investments in public health, unemployment insurance, and infrastructure. Low income Americans and many middle income Americans would receive further economic impact payments of $1,400 — fulfilling a campaign promise made by Senators Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff of Georgia when they were candidates.
The Senate version of the bill does not include an increase in the minimum wage to $15/hour, a key progressive priority. Provisions pertaining to the extension of unemployment insurance had to be modified to placate Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the Senate Democratic caucus’ most right wing member.
Friday was Manchin’s most quintessential moment: The centrist Democrat paralyzed the entire Senate for more than ten hours and threatened to side with Republicans seeking to cut weeks of unemployment benefits.
In the end, it took a direct call from President Biden, a meeting with Schumer and significant concessions to get Manchin on board.
He trimmed several weeks of unemployment benefits off of Senator Tom Carper’s (D‑Delaware) compromise amendment from earlier in the day and added a $150,000 cap to the proposal’s tax deduction for up to $10,200 in unemployment benefits.
The deal Manchin extracted ensures that the pandemic benefits boost expires before the current expiration of government funding. His party had hoped to extend the aid through September, but now it will expire on Labor Day in the middle of a scheduled recess.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer hailed the plan as “strong” and “deep” and told reporters at a press conference: “I think this is a very fine day… We told the American people in the election campaign that Democrats would actually get government to help them… We’re keeping our promises.”
“The American people voted for leaders who would deliver the relief they need to weather this pandemic and economic crisis — and they won’t forget that Democrats answered the call for help,’ said DNC Chair Jaime Harrison.
“Senate Democrats just came together to pass President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, a relief bill that includes: direct payments to Americans, expanded and extended unemployment benefits, funding for vaccine distribution, funding to safely reopen schools, and assistance for small businesses.”
“This plan has broad bipartisan support from the public, and from state and local officials of both parties across the country. And yet, while our country is in need and folks are hurting, Republicans in Congress once again tried to stand in the way of helping the American people. The contrast couldn’t be clearer: Democrats will continue the fight to end this pandemic and to build back better.”
“COVID-19 has taken so much from each of us over the past year. From parents, to students, to workers, to small business owners, I’ve heard from people across Washington state about the challenges they’ve faced during this pandemic, and their clear need for help that meets the scale and scope of the crisis they are facing,” said Senator Patty Murray. “And I’ve heard from communities of color, people with disabilities, and others who are too often left out or left behind about how the pandemic worsened inequities that already existed in our country.”
Murray — who has served as Washington’s senior United States Senator for over twenty years — recently re-assumed the chairmanship of the Senate HELP Committee (Health, Education, Labor & Pensions). A veteran appropriator and the third-ranking Democratic senator in the caucus, Murray understands the power of investment and pooling resources to get things done.
“After months of Republican opposition, Democrats have passed a bill that acknowledges just how much people across this country are hurting right now, and provides them with relief that begins to meet this moment.”
“A bill that puts money in families’ pockets, that helps workers get through unemployment, that gives our schools the resources they need to safely re-open, that will help us get shots in arms to end the pandemic fast and equitably, that gives our state, local, and Tribal governments the resources they need to continue providing essential services, and so much more.”
“While this is a big step towards making sure that we make it through the pandemic and come out on the other side of this crisis ready to bounce back and build a fairer and more inclusive country, it will not be the last step we take. And as a voice for our state in the Senate, I will continue listening to people across Washington state and working to get them what they need.”
“Democrats promised the American people big, bold action on COVID relief, and we just delivered on that promise. Elections matter,” tweeted Oregon’s senior United States Senator Ron Wyden following the vote on final passage.
Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington celebrated the proposal’s inclusion of funding to expand broadband Internet access to more Americans.
“12 million school kids still don’t have access to adequate broadband for remote learning. This bill provides $7 billion to the Federal Communications Commission for schools and libraries to provide broadband connectivity for helping students learn at home,” said Senator Cantwell in a statement. “I want to thank Senator Markey for his tireless efforts to close the homework gap.”
“Throughout this pandemic, we have asked our students to shoulder an enormous burden and continue their education from home,” said Senator Markey, the junior United States Senator from Massachusetts.
“The funding included in this relief package for K‑12 distance learning will finally provide all our children with the technology and tools to set them up for success and ensure they can continue their studies from home. This funding will help ensure that the ‘homework gap’ does not grow into a damaging learning and opportunity gap for our children, particularly those who live in communities of color, low-income households, and rural areas.”
As noted above, the Senate’s version of the American Rescue Plan is significantly weaker than the House’s version. NPI is extremely disappointed that eight Democratic senators voted against Senator Bernie Sanders’ minimum wage increase amendment earlier this week. Working families need a pay boost.
No one can live on $7.25 an hour, the current federal minimum wage. Every Democratic senator should have recognized that and voted for the amendment.
Although the American Rescue Plan has gotten weaker, instead of stronger, it is still worthy of passage. It will now be up to House leadership to decide whether to concur with the Senate changes or insist on further negotiations to determine what should be in the final version. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is a veteran vote counter who knows how to take the pulse of her caucus, and is no doubt already at work at this very moment planning the House’s next moves.
“Today is a day of great progress and promise for the American people, as the Democratic Senate has passed President Biden’s American Rescue Plan to save lives and livelihoods,” said Pelosi in a statement following the vote.
“The House now hopes to have a bipartisan vote on this life-saving legislation and urges Republicans to join us in recognition of the devastating reality of this vicious virus and economic crisis and of the need for decisive action.”
This post will be updated with additional reactions as we get them.