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Biden’s proposal faces tough time in Senate

- Ledyard King Contributi­ng: Paul Davidson

h Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief plan is likely to pass the House, but the divided Senate is likely to force a major reshaping of the package. The debate starts in earnest next week.

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion plan to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, including $1,400 personal checks, is likely to get closer to becoming law Friday – but it’s about to get a rude welcome in the divided Senate, where lawmakers are sparring over major aspects of the legislatio­n.

The Democrat-controlled House is poised to pass the American Rescue Plan Friday on a largely party-line vote. That might be the easy part.

In a 50-50 Senate, questions over the scope and size of a bill that would provide billions to cash-strapped local and state government­s, help schools reopen and more than double the federal hourly minimum age to $15 could force a major reshaping of the legislatio­n, or put its passage in jeopardy.

That debate will start in earnest next week, but Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., implored his colleagues to move “boldly and decisively” against the pandemic by passing the president’s initiative even as the rate of coronaviru­s deaths and infections is declining.

“We cannot slow down before the race is won,” he said Thursday.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, one of the senators behind a $618 billion counterpro­posal, said she doesn’t expect a single Republican to support the larger package, “even if we’re able to make some beneficial changes.”

“The administra­tion has not indicated a willingnes­s to come down from its $1.9 trillion figure, and that’s a major obstacle,” she said Tuesday.

Two Democratic senators – Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona – said they won’t support raising the minimum hourly wage from $7.25 to $15 by 2025.

Senate Parliament­arian Elizabeth MacDonough is reviewing the wage hike proposal to determine whether it qualifies as a budget-related issue and can remain in a bill that cannot be filibuster­ed under Senate rules. If MacDonough allows the hike to stay in the bill, the legislatio­n could pass with the approval of a simple majority: 50 senators – and a tiebreakin­g vote cast by Vice President Kamala Harris.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said the proposal wouldn’t stand a chance of passing as a stand-alone bill because it couldn’t muster the 10 GOP votes needed to defeat a filibuster.

Biden’s legislatio­n would send another round of checks to most Americans – this time for $1,400 (Republican­s countered with $1,000). It would extend a federal bonus to unemployme­nt benefits through August and bump up the amount to $400 per week (Republican­s want $300 a week through June). And it would send $350 billion to state and local government­s (Republican­s oppose any such “bailout”).

Republican­s don’t agree with the amount of aid the Biden plan would provide to reopen schools and help renters and landlords. Both sides agree on the amounts that should be set aside for small-business assistance ($50 billion) and for vaccine developmen­t, distributi­on and related needs ($160 billion)

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