The Senate passed President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan Saturday after a marathon debate that went on for more than 24 hours straight as a slew of amendments to the House version of the bill were proposed and, in some cases, adopted.
Some House Democrats are already griping over the modifications made to the legislation – particularly the removal of a federal minimum wage hike – before the bill comes back to their chamber for a vote as soon as Tuesday. But those peeved progressives appear poised to set aside their misgivings and approve the Senate changes.
“Despite the fact that we believe any weakening of the House provisions were bad policy and bad politics, the reality is that the final amendments were relatively minor concessions,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., the congressional Progressive Caucus chair, said in a statement Saturday.
Support from progressives will be critical because, with no Republicans on board, House Democrats can only afford to lose five votes and still pass the bill. Two Democrats voted against the House’s version of the bill when it passed last week.
As the Senate modified the House bill, Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J., shared her disdain for the changes on Twitter Friday and questioned whether she could vote for the final package.
“This trend is outrageous,” Watson Coleman tweeted, listing some of the Senate’s changes. “What are we doing here? I’m frankly disgusted with some of my colleagues and question whether I can support this bill.”
Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. – two prominent progressive congresswomen – seemed to agree with their colleague by sharing her Friday night tweet.
Live stimulus updates: Biden praises Senate passage of $1.9 trillion COVID relief plan as ‘giant step forward’
Watson Coleman told USA TODAY in a subsequent phone interview she was “thinking very hard about making a statement” when the bill came up for a House vote.
“As progressives,” she said, “we’re going to have to figure out where the line in the sand is” and how many more concessions they would make to moderate Democrats.
House Democratic leadership, however, is confident they will pass the bill. After the bill passed the Senate, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., announced a Tuesday vote and said they would be able to “send this bill to President Biden for his signature early next week.”
Here are the changes between the two versions of the bill:
$15 federal minimum wage removed
A federal hourly minimum wage increase was included in the version of the relief bill that was approved by the House; however, it was stripped from the Senate version after the Senate parliamentarian found it to be against budget rules.
Senate Democrats’ attempt to reinsert a $15 minimum wage provision Friday also failed when eight Democratic caucus members voted with all Senate Republicans against Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ proposal.
Even if the parliamentarian had not ruled against it, the minimum wage increase did not appear to have the support it needed to pass the Senate. Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia have both been vocal about not supporting a federal minimum wage increase.
Despite the federal minimum wage increase being cut from the package and his own misgivings on the bill, Sanders still voted for the Senate’s COVID relief package.
Fewer people get $1,400
Like the House version, the Senate bill includes $1,400 stimulus checks to Americans but it lowered the income eligibility for taxpayers getting the payments.
Under the House bill, stimulus checks would phase out for individuals making between $75,000-$100,000 a year and couples making $150,000-$200,000. Under the Senate bill, the phase out stops at $80,000 for individuals and $160,000 for couples.
Roughly 8 million fewer households will get a check under the Senate bill compared with what the House passed, according to an analysis from the Tax Policy Center.
Unemployment benefits reduced
Although both the Senate and House passed direct payments and unemployment benefits provisions, the Senate amended both provisions during their debate after voting on the relief bill was stalled for several hours.
The House bill extended federal unemployment benefits until Aug. 29 and increased that aid to $400 a week. That’s on top of what beneficiaries are getting through their state unemployment insurance program.
The Senate bill would extend the enhanced unemployment benefits through Sept. 6 at $300 a week. Also, the first $10,200 of benefits would non-taxable. The provision applies to households with incomes under $150,000.
CA subway, NY bridge projects nixed
The Senate dropped two contentious provisions from the House bill that Republicans had derided as wasteful, pork-barrel spending for the Democratic strongholds of California and New York.
The two projects were the expansion of the Bay Area subway system, BART, and the construction of a bridge between upstate New York and Canada.
“This is the way Nancy Pelosi gets $140 million for her tunnel of love to Silicon Valley,” Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo, said Tuesday of the BART provision.
The bridge connecting Canada and New York had originally been a part of a funding request by then-Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao under the Trump administration.
“Now that the two projects that Republicans misled the public about in the House bill have been removed, it is unclear how Republicans will justify their opposition to the American Rescue Plan, which has strong bipartisan support among the public,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said after those provisions were scrapped.
Limits on aid for state and local government
The Senate provides $350 billion for state and local government, which is the same as the House version, but adds the stipulation that the money can only cover costs incurred by the end of 2024. And the money can’t be used to offset tax cuts or create a pension fund.
Another stipulation of the Senate bill requires that small states get at least the same amount that they received under the last COVID relief package from last March.
States will also receive $10 billion under a new Critical Infrastructure Projects program that would help states, territories and tribal governments carry out capital projects.
Funding for the Economic Development Administration increased to $750 million under the Senate bill. That money is intended to go to communities hurt by job and revenue loss related to the decline in tourism, travel and outdoor recreation.
Health care aid
Under a law known as COBRA, those who lose their jobs can remain on their company’s health care plan for up to 18 months but they usually still must pay their full monthly premium. The Senate’s bill will subsidize 100% of those premiums under COBRA through the end of September to ensure laid-off workers can keep their health insurance.
While the House also included provisions to subsidize health insurance premiums, they were capped at 85% of the cost.
The Senate also included $8.5 billion for the Provider Relief Program to help struggling health care providers in rural areas that have yet to receive their share of COVID-19 relief.
The Senate also approved $510 million more than the House to fund FEMA’s Emergency Food and Shelter Program, which provides support to homeless service providers for overnight shelter, meals, food banks and pantries across the country.
The additional funding will also provide one month’s rent or mortgage payment to help prevent evictions, as well as a month’s utility payments to prevent service cut-offs.
And the Senate bill provides Amtrak and the United States Digital Service with an additional $200 million on top of what the House passed for relief funding.
The increased funding for the USDS will help meet the high demand from different agencies that need help providing services, including vaccine distribution, unemployment assistance and stimulus checks.
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID stimulus bill: What changed between Senate and House versions?