Senate Approves Covid Relief Resolution

by Jake Johnson, courtesy of Commondreams.org

Following more than 14 hours of votes on nonbinding Republican amendments that often had nothing to do with coronavirus relief, the Senate approved a budget resolution that sets the stage for construction of a pandemic aid package containing up to $1.9 trillion in spending on direct payments, expanded unemployment benefits, vaccine distribution, and more.

The House is expected to act on the Senate-passed resolution on Friday, February 5, jumpstarting committee work on a filibuster-proof reconciliation bill amid unified Republican opposition.

In a floor speech just ahead of the resolution’s passage—which Vice President Kamala Harris pushed over the finish line with a tie-breaking vote—Senate Budget Committee Chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said that “we have the opportunity not only to address the pandemic, to address the economic collapse, to address the reality that millions of our kids have seen their education disrupted.”

“But we have the opportunity to give hope to the American people and restore faith in our government by telling them that… we understand the pain that they are experiencing and we are gonna do something very significant about it,” said the Vermont senator.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) applauded passage of the budget resolution in a statement early Friday, calling it “a giant first step” toward providing the public with desperately needed coronavirus relief.

“We cannot underscore enough how much help America needs during this awful crisis, and we cannot miss the point that we still have a long way to go,” said Schumer. “We will keep working as hard as we can to pass this legislation through the House, through the Senate as we go through the reconciliation process and hopefully put it on the president’s desk.”

Passage of the budget blueprint came at the end of a marathon “vote-a-rama” session in which Senate Republicans put forth hundreds of messaging amendments in the hopes of forcing Democratic lawmakers into taking positions perceived as politically harmful or divisive. Eight Democrats, for example, joined the GOP in approving Sen. Todd Young’s (R-Ind.) amendment calling for exclusion of undocumented immigrants from direct relief payments.

As Bloomberg reported, the Senate stripped out that amendment—as well as GOP amendments on the Keystone XL pipeline and fracking—just ahead of the budget resolution’s final passage.

At the beginning of the session Thursday afternoon, Sanders slammed his GOP colleagues for pushing measures that would exacerbate “xenophobia” and inequality amid a devastating recession which has been described as the most unequal in modern U.S. history.

“My Republican colleagues,” said Sanders, “have filed amendments to make [former] President Trump’s tax breaks for the wealthiest people in our country and the most profitable corporations permanent, which would provide a massive windfall to the top 1% and the billionaire class, who have already seen their wealth go up by over $1 trillion during this pandemic.”

“In my mind,” Sanders added, “not exactly the kind of policy that we need right now.”

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