(Reuters) – Senate Democrats said Thursday they changed President Joe Biden’s $ 1.9 trillion coronavirus aid package to provide more aid to smaller US states as lawmakers shifted prepared to begin a long debate on the law.
With no votes left, the Democrats are tweaking the bill to ensure that all 50 of its members support it. On Thursday, they said they had increased the minimum amount of aid each state would receive – a move that would likely please those representing sparsely populated states like Vermont.
The democratically controlled Senate met at noon and was due to vote on a motion to initiate a 20-hour debate on the massive bill. The Republicans’ response to the motion could give an early indication of how unanimously they are against the package.
Republicans are expected to drag out the process for as long as possible by asking for a full read of the extensive legislation, which can take up to 10 hours on Thursday. There would be 20 hours of debate and a long series of votes that could extend well into the weekend.
“No matter how long it takes, the Senate will stay in session to finalize the bill,” said Chuck Schumer, Democratic Senate chairman, in the Senate.
Security at the U.S. Capitol, the site of a fatal attack in January, was tough after police warned a militia group might attempt to attack. However, there was no sign of protesters in the complex early Thursday.
The Relief Act, Biden’s number one legislative priority, includes funding for vaccines and medical supplies, expanding unemployment benefits and providing a new round of emergency financial aid to households, small businesses, and state and local governments. Opinion polls suggest broad public support.
The Senate Democrats tightened the criteria for stimulus checks on Wednesday so that fewer high-income households would qualify.
The compromise means 9 million households will receive fewer incentives than in the last payout tranche in 2020. Senate Democrats say it will cut the cost of legislation by $ 12 billion.
On Thursday, they said they had increased minimum payments to states with smaller rural populations to meet the $ 1.25 billion minimum included in last year’s CARES bill. The bill passed by the House set the floor at $ 500 million.
“Small states will secure at least as much as they would under the CARES bill,” Ron Wyden, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, told reporters.
According to independent Senator Angus King, the bill has also been amended to ensure that small towns receive some of that aid. According to Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, the Democrats were still negotiating other issues, such as unemployment benefits.
Senate minority chairman Mitch McConnell said the package contained too many provisions that would not directly address a pandemic that killed nearly 520,000 Americans and left millions unemployed.
“Washington Democrats are trying to use the final chapters of this crisis to pass the most advanced domestic law of a generation,” he said.
The Democrats hope Biden can sign it before March 14th, when some of the current benefits have been used up.
In the Senate, bills typically require the support of 60 senators. However, the Coronavirus Relief Act is being further developed as part of a legislative maneuver known as reconciliation, which enables it to be passed by a simple majority.
The 48 Senate Democrats and the two Independents who meet with them control 50 seats, exactly half of the 100-seat chamber, but Vice President Kamala Harris, a Democrat, can cast votes to break ties.
(Reporting by David Morgan and Richard Cowan; additional reporting by Makini Brice; editing by Andy Sullivan, Alistair Bell and Cynthia Osterman)