Senate passes $1.9 trillion stimulus bill

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The measure heads back to the House for final approval

Members of the U.S. Senate worked over the weekend to pass a version of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus (COVID-19) stimulus bill. 

Because of changes made in the Senate, the measure returns to the House for a final vote as early as Tuesday. It would then go to the White House for President Biden’s signature.

The measure passed by the Senate is largely the same bill approved by the House but with some important differences. Americans would still receive a payment of $1,400, but the payments would be phased out at lower income levels. Single people earning less than $75,000 a year will get the full $1,400 payment, as well as married couples earning less than $150,000. 

Children in these households will also receive the same $1,400 payment. It’s estimated that the payments will go to about 90 percent of U.S. households.

Who won’t get the payments

The payments decrease sharply when incomes rise above those levels and disappear if an individual earns more than $80,000 or a couple earns more than a combined $160,000.

Moderate Democrats pushed for those income levels, which are significantly lower than in the House version. Moderate Democrats also flexed their muscles in scaling down the unemployment benefits contained in the House version.

The House version of the bill extends enhanced unemployment benefits of $400 a week to August, but the Senate bill lowers the amount to $300 a week. At the same time, it extends the time period for the extra benefits to September.

While all unemployment benefits are taxable income, the Senate bill contains a provision that makes the first $10,200 of unemployment benefits nontaxable for households earning less than $150,000.

GOP objections

The Senate approved the bill on a narrow party-line vote. Republicans objected to the measure’s $350 billion disbursements to state and local governments and said most of the spending had little or nothing to do with pandemic relief. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called it “an ideological spending spree.”

“That’s how you get a 628-page bill that costs nearly $2 trillion, but only 9 percent addresses the fight against the virus itself,” McConnell said in a speech on the Senate floor. “Only 1 percent — 1 percent! — for the life-saving vaccinations that are ending this nightmare as we speak.”

While passage is almost assured when the bill returns to the House this week, progressive Democrats in that chamber have reserved judgment, saying they want to wait to review the changes made by moderate Senate Democrats.

Should the House give final approval on Tuesday, the president is expected to sign it into law immediately. Payments to individuals and families could then start within days.

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