US Senate votes to advance Covid relief bill

The Capitol is pictured in Washington D.C., the United States.

Washington, (Asian independent)┬áThe US Senate has voted to begin a debate on the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package amid Republican opposition, as Democrats hope to send the bill to President Joe Biden’s desk before unemployment benefits expire this month.

On Thursday, the upper chamber approved a procedural step in a 50-50 vote along party line, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking a tie, reports Xinhua news agency.

Senate Republicans, who have opposed the high price tag of the relief package, could use certain tools to delay a final vote on the bill by hours or even days.

“I just objected to skipping past the reading of the Democrats’ 628-page bill that was just introduced minutes ago,” Republican Senator Ron Johnson tweeted on Thursday afternoon.

“If they’re going to add nearly $2T to the national debt at least we should know what’s in the bill,” Johnson said.

In response, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said that “it’s great Republican Senator Ron Johnson wants to read the American Rescue Plan on the Senate floor, it gives Americans another opportunity to hear what’s in it”.

“Direct checks, vaccine funding, resources for schools, rental assistance, small biz (business) help, anti-poverty measures, and more,” Schumer said in a statement on Twitter.

“We will pass the bold Covid response Americans urgently need.”

The Democrats-held House of Representatives approved the relief package on February 27 amid unanimous Republican opposition.

The plan contains direct payments of $1,400 per person for working families, but Democrats have agreed to limit the number of people who can get the stimulus checks to win the support of moderate party members, which prompted backlash from progressives.

The House-approved bill also includes a provision to raise the federal minimum wage to $15, which would face tough tests in the 50-50 split Senate, where parliamentarians have ruled that the wage increase violates the budget reconciliation process and cannot be included.

In February, Democrats moved to pass a procedural step in both chambers, allowing them to push through the big relief bill in Congress without Republican support, a move criticised by Republicans as a “partisan process”.

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