The Capital

Biden urges Senate Dems to rally behind virus bill

Divisions by some in party over $1.9T package remain

- By Alan Fram

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden urged Senate Democrats on Tuesday to rally behind a $1.9 trillion COVID-relief bill and stood by his proposed $1,400 payments to individual­s, even as some party moderates sought to dial back parts of the package.

“He said we need to pass this bill and pass it soon. That’s what the American people sent us here to do, and we have to get America the help it needs,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters, describing a 20-minute conference call Biden had with Democratic senators.

The president’s cry for unity came as Democrats — with no votes to spare in a 50-50 Senate — sorted through lingering divisions over the emerging bill. Those included moderates’ efforts to focus spending more narrowly on those hardest hit by the deadly pandemic and resulting economic contractio­n.

Biden took to Twitter to signal he wouldn’t budge from his demand that lawmakers add a fresh $1,400 payment to the $600 that millions of individual­s received in December. That new installmen­t comprises nearly a quarter of the overall bill’s cost.

“The fact is that $600 is not enough. The Senate needs to pass the American Rescue Plan and finish the job of delivering $2,000 in direct relief,” Biden wrote in one of his infrequent uses of the social media platform.

The huge relief package is a too-big-to-fail moment for the fledging president, who would be politicall­y staggered if Congress — controlled narrowly by Democrats — failed to deliver. Conquering the virus that’s killed more than 515,000 Americans and flung the economy and countless lives into tailspins is Biden’s top initial priority.

So far, Republican­s are following the template they set during Barack Obama’s presidency. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he hoped GOP senators would oppose the bill unanimousl­y, as their House counterpar­ts did early Saturday when that chamber approved its version of the measure.

McConnell accused Democrats of ignoring signs that the economy and the deadly virus’s rampage were beginning to turn around and shunning Republican­s. Biden met with 10 GOP senators last month who presented a $600 billion plan, but efforts to find middle ground went nowhere.

“The new administra­tion made a conscious effort to jam us,” McConnell told reporters. “We’ll be fighting this in every way that we can.”

Democrats are using special rules that will let them avoid GOP filibuster­s that would require them to garner an impossible 60 votes to approve the legislatio­n.

The Senate bill was expected to largely mirror the House-approved package, with the most glaring divergence being the Senate’s dropping of language boosting the federal minimum wage to $15 hourly.

Schumer said Senate debate would commence as soon as Wednesday and predicted, “We’ll have the votes we need to pass the bill.” Democrats want to send a final package to Biden by March 14, when an earlier round of emergency jobless benefits expires.

The bill has hundreds of billions of dollars for schools and colleges, COVID-19 vaccines and testing, mass transit systems, renters and small businesses. It also has money for child care, tax breaks for families with children and assistance for states willing to expand Medicaid coverage for low-income residents.

Two people said Biden told Democrats they must sometimes accept provisions in a large measure that they don’t like. And it was clear there were still moving parts.

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, perhaps the Senate’s most conservati­ve Democrat, said he wanted to pare the bill’s $400 weekly emergency unemployme­nt benefit to $300. That’s the same amount Congress approved last December — on top of regular state benefits — and Manchin said the higher figure would discourage people from returning to work.

“It would be awful for the doors to open up and there’s no one working,” Manchin said of businesses reopening.

Despite every Democrats’ huge leverage because all their votes are needed, none have so far threatened to sink the legislatio­n if they don’t get their way. All are aware of how that would rattle Biden’s presidency and Democrats’ ability to be productive during this Congress.

“We want to get the biggest, strongest bill that can pass, and that’s what we’re going to do,” Schumer said.

There were indication­s loose ends were falling into place. In one sign, 11 Democratic senators wrote Biden urging him to use a huge, upcoming infrastruc­ture bill to create regularly paid relief and jobless benefits that would be automatica­lly triggered by economic conditions.

Some progressiv­es had wanted those payments included in the COVID19 bill. Democrats’ push to include it in later legislatio­n suggested an effort to satisfy progressiv­es while avoiding jeopardizi­ng the current package.

 ?? ANNA MONEYMAKER/THE NEW YORK TIMES ?? Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, seen Tuesday, said Senate debate on President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronaviru­s relief bill would start as soon as Wednesday. Democrats want to send a final package to the president by March 14.
ANNA MONEYMAKER/THE NEW YORK TIMES Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, seen Tuesday, said Senate debate on President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronaviru­s relief bill would start as soon as Wednesday. Democrats want to send a final package to the president by March 14.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA