Legislation

Here’s what happens next as the Senate prepares to debate the $1.9 trillion relief bill

The last three days have been a frantic rush to the finish line as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer faces his first big test to keep his caucus — a diverse coalition that includes the likes of West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Vermont’s Bernie Sanders — in line to support the COVID-19 relief bill.The bill we expect to see in the next several hours will look different than what the House passed, even if many of the most popular provisions and structures will remain untouched. That’s a reflection of the herculean task Democratic leadership and the White House have had to undertake in recent days as they’ve hustled to try and ensure that ever Democratic senator had what they needed tucked inside to back this bill. It also means the bill will have to go back to the House for another vote next week before sending it to President Joe Biden’s desk.As we’ve said before, failure isn’t an option here. Democrats can’t go onto the field and sink Biden’s first big legislative option — a bill that most Democrats agree is badly needed even if they have individual gripes about specific provisions. As Biden said to the House Democrats last night, the point here is to remember the big picture. That’s been the message from Schumer as his caucus heads into a lengthy vote-a-rama, that’s been the message from the president and his staff and that’s what Senate Democrats have been telling each other.They’ll get there, but the massive effort to get this bill to the finish line, which included multiple meetings with the president, around-the-clock paper trading with White House legislative affairs and even a series of conversations with Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowksi about what her state of Alaska is dealing with amid the pandemic should not be overlooked. This was an all-hands-on-deck effort and if the bill passes, it shouldn’t be read as just a symptom of Democrats in lockstep.All the ways the Senate bill will look differentWe know of a few big ways the Senate bill will look different than what the House passed.The bill won’t include:An increase to a $15-an-hour minimum wage.Funding for the bridge from upstate New York to CanadaMoney for the extension of the railway system outside of San FranciscoThe bill will also change:The income threshold for who is eligible to get COVID-19 relief checks will be different. Once an individual makes $80,000, they won’t get any relief check; in the House bill, that cutoff was $100,000. An individual making $75,000 a year will get the full $1,400 and it will be phased out up to $80,000.Includes more money for rural hospitalsMore funding to expand broadbandMore money for FEMA to help the homelessA slightly revised state and local formula that will help smaller population states and boosts the minimum they will receive.Keep your eye on AlaskaThe bill that will be unveiled Thursday will make some very specific changes to the bill aimed at building trust with one Republican senator: Lisa Murkowski even as the provisions will certainly help other small states that depend on tourism and fishing industries.The meetings over the last several days haven’t really been all about Neera Tanden. Murkowski has been educating her new White House partners about the unique dynamics of her state, how this pandemic has hurt Alaska with a rollback in the cruise ship industry, with changes to tourism in the state, with the executive orders that pause oil drilling on federal lands. A source familiar tells CNN that a few of the tweaks to the House bill were specifically designed with Alaska in mind and include:An increase in the tourism set asideMore funding for seafood processorsAn increase in the small state minimum in the state and local funding portion of the bill so that states with smaller populations get a bigger chunk of dollars than they would have under the House billThis doesn’t mean Murkowski will vote for the bill, but this was intended to help build some of that bipartisanship that Biden promised on the campaign trail. This is an olive branch of sorts to show they are open to having these kinds of conversations with senators.What we will also be looking forHow the Senate bill deals with unemployment benefits. How long do those benefits go? We know the number will remain $400 a week, but there are questions about how long the benefits will extend to. The House bill’s benefits ran through August.Any other superfluous funding. This bill will be huge and tucked inside could be very specific items that were included to earn the support of individual senators. Schumer needs all of his Democratic members to stay in line. Giving them very specific sweeteners — well, that’s a good way to get votes.Step by stepThe Senate advanced the bill with a razor thin 51-vote majority Thursday. Vice President Kamala Harris broke the 50-50 tie.Clerks then began reading the bill, which could take about 10 hours. If you prefer the book on tape version of the COVID-19 relief bill to reading it, you can tune into the Senate floor and watch that.Then the Senate will begin 20 hours of debate. The time is evenly divided. Republicans or Democrats could yield back time, so it could be limited if Democrats decide to give back significant portions of time.Only after that, the Senate will begin the vote-a-rama, and there is no saying how long that will go.

The last three days have been a frantic rush to the finish line as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer faces his first big test to keep his caucus — a diverse coalition that includes the likes of West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Vermont’s Bernie Sanders — in line to support the COVID-19 relief bill.

The bill we expect to see in the next several hours will look different than what the House passed, even if many of the most popular provisions and structures will remain untouched. That’s a reflection of the herculean task Democratic leadership and the White House have had to undertake in recent days as they’ve hustled to try and ensure that ever Democratic senator had what they needed tucked inside to back this bill. It also means the bill will have to go back to the House for another vote next week before sending it to President Joe Biden’s desk.

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As we’ve said before, failure isn’t an option here. Democrats can’t go onto the field and sink Biden’s first big legislative option — a bill that most Democrats agree is badly needed even if they have individual gripes about specific provisions. As Biden said to the House Democrats last night, the point here is to remember the big picture. That’s been the message from Schumer as his caucus heads into a lengthy vote-a-rama, that’s been the message from the president and his staff and that’s what Senate Democrats have been telling each other.

They’ll get there, but the massive effort to get this bill to the finish line, which included multiple meetings with the president, around-the-clock paper trading with White House legislative affairs and even a series of conversations with Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowksi about what her state of Alaska is dealing with amid the pandemic should not be overlooked. This was an all-hands-on-deck effort and if the bill passes, it shouldn’t be read as just a symptom of Democrats in lockstep.

All the ways the Senate bill will look different

We know of a few big ways the Senate bill will look different than what the House passed.

The bill won’t include:

  • An increase to a $15-an-hour minimum wage.
  • Funding for the bridge from upstate New York to Canada
  • Money for the extension of the railway system outside of San Francisco

The bill will also change:

  • The income threshold for who is eligible to get COVID-19 relief checks will be different. Once an individual makes $80,000, they won’t get any relief check; in the House bill, that cutoff was $100,000. An individual making $75,000 a year will get the full $1,400 and it will be phased out up to $80,000.
  • Includes more money for rural hospitals
  • More funding to expand broadband
  • More money for FEMA to help the homeless
  • A slightly revised state and local formula that will help smaller population states and boosts the minimum they will receive.

Keep your eye on Alaska

The bill that will be unveiled Thursday will make some very specific changes to the bill aimed at building trust with one Republican senator: Lisa Murkowski even as the provisions will certainly help other small states that depend on tourism and fishing industries.

The meetings over the last several days haven’t really been all about Neera Tanden. Murkowski has been educating her new White House partners about the unique dynamics of her state, how this pandemic has hurt Alaska with a rollback in the cruise ship industry, with changes to tourism in the state, with the executive orders that pause oil drilling on federal lands. A source familiar tells CNN that a few of the tweaks to the House bill were specifically designed with Alaska in mind and include:

  • An increase in the tourism set aside
  • More funding for seafood processors
  • An increase in the small state minimum in the state and local funding portion of the bill so that states with smaller populations get a bigger chunk of dollars than they would have under the House bill

This doesn’t mean Murkowski will vote for the bill, but this was intended to help build some of that bipartisanship that Biden promised on the campaign trail. This is an olive branch of sorts to show they are open to having these kinds of conversations with senators.

What we will also be looking for

  • How the Senate bill deals with unemployment benefits. How long do those benefits go? We know the number will remain $400 a week, but there are questions about how long the benefits will extend to. The House bill’s benefits ran through August.
  • Any other superfluous funding. This bill will be huge and tucked inside could be very specific items that were included to earn the support of individual senators. Schumer needs all of his Democratic members to stay in line. Giving them very specific sweeteners — well, that’s a good way to get votes.

Step by step

The Senate advanced the bill with a razor thin 51-vote majority Thursday. Vice President Kamala Harris broke the 50-50 tie.

Clerks then began reading the bill, which could take about 10 hours. If you prefer the book on tape version of the COVID-19 relief bill to reading it, you can tune into the Senate floor and watch that.

Then the Senate will begin 20 hours of debate. The time is evenly divided. Republicans or Democrats could yield back time, so it could be limited if Democrats decide to give back significant portions of time.

Only after that, the Senate will begin the vote-a-rama, and there is no saying how long that will go.


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