Great Britain

Senate breaks deadlock on Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid bill —but $15 minimum wage rejected

A deal has been struck in the US Senate to implement a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief legislation through the Covid-19 Relief Bill.

After an hours-long standstill, the Senate Democrats have agreed to extend the duration of the federal jobless benefits to support those who are unemployed, in a bid to support the regrowth of the economy in the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, the deal that has been struck does not mirror the legislation proposed by the House of Representatives last week, with this deal lowering the proposed weekly amount from $400 to $300.

This long-awaited deal proposes support packages of $1,400 (£1011) for people making less than $75,000 (£54,1907) annually, with married couples being eligible for two $1,400 checks if their household income is below $150,000.

The White House press office has confirmed that President Biden supports the agreement, with White House press secretary Jen Psaki saying: "The President supports the compromise agreement, and is grateful to all the Senators who worked so hard to reach this outcome. 

It extends supplemental unemployment benefit into September, and helps the vast majority of unemployment insurance recipients avoid unanticipated tax bills. Most importantly, this agreement allows us to move forward on the urgently needed American Rescue Plan, with $1400 relief checks, funding we need to finish the vaccine rollout, open our schools, help those suffering from the pandemic, and more."

Whilst the White House supports the compromise, it is currently unclear whether they have enough support from the Senate to achieve the majority vote needed to ascend the bill into law.

During the six-hour-long standstill in the Senate, focus was placed on moderate Democrats like Joe Manchin of West Virginia - who stalled the bill -  as Republicans offered last-minute revisions to jobless aid, along with more than 100 amendments to the aid package as it clears its last major hurdle one year after a public health crisis that has upended American life and its economy.

A number of proposed amendments were put forth - in a legislative stage referred to as “vote-a-rama” - with one suggesting that benefits stay at $300 a week, but extend them through September and make $10,200 in benefits free from tax penalties, retroactively.

Republican Senator Rob Portman offered another amendment – keeping $300 a week, but only through July, and not tax-free – sending lawmakers huddling for hours as the Biden administration made several 11th-hour pleas to send the bill to the president’s desk.

Voting then halted after Republicans and eight Democrats rejected Senator Bernie Sanders’ amendment to include a $15 minimum wage in the bill.

The US added roughly 379,000 jobs in February, showing signs of a recovering economy within Joe Biden’s first month in office. But the nation’s pace of hiring is still lagging, as the unemployment rate remains significantly above pre-pandemic levels with more than 9 million Americans out of work than this time last year.

However, Mr Biden’s chief of staff Ron Klain warned against a full sigh of relief, saying “if you think today’s jobs report is ‘good enough,’ then know that at this pace … it would take until April 2023 to get back to where we were in February 2020.”

Referring to the economic climate,  White House press secretary Jen Psaki said “This is unacceptable. It’s unacceptable when 4 million Americans have been unemployed for more than six months, or when unemployment is at 9.9 per cent for African Americans and 8.5 per cent for Hispanics. Congress must pass the American Rescue Plan now so we can get Americans back to work, and so we can get relief to the millions of people who are struggling.”

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