After more than 24 hours of voting, the Senate has officially passed Pres. Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act — a $1.9 trillion bill aimed at providing additional relief and resources to those affected by the coronavirus. The bill passed along party lines with a 50-49 vote.
Included in the Senate’s version of the American Rescue Plan are multiple benefits and amendments that will have a tangible impact on the lives of everyday Americans. Funds are earmarked for direct payments of up to $1,400 for Americans making less than $75,000, unemployment benefits of $300 a week that expire in early September, the distribution of coronavirus tests and vaccines, and $350 billion of financial relief for states, cities, schools and small businesses that have struggled throughout the pandemic. Tens of billion dollars will be used to increase the size of the public health workforce and pay for improvements to vaccine distribution and supply chains. There are also several measures meant to combat poverty across the United States through a series of tax credits, increases in subsidies, and an expansion of food stamps and rental assistance.
The American Rescue Plan is the sixth in a series of major legislative aid packages created to combat the coronavirus. The first package cost just over $2 trillion and was passed with bi-partisan support in March of 2020 during the early phase of the pandemic. This bill, on the other hand, faced an increase in partisan brawling and was slowed down immensely by an arsenal of amendments crafted by Republicans that the upper chamber was forced to vote on despite their having little chance of passing.
One such an amendment, proposed by Sen. Tuberville (R-AL) would block schools from “receiving funding if biological males are allowed to compete in women’s athletics.” Despite being an off-topic and transphobic stunt, the amendment only failed on a vote of 49 to 50 and garnered enough support to elicit a reaction from Sen. Murray (D-WA) who called it “an attempt to discriminate against transgender students.” “Can’t we just have a little bit of heart and compassion in this world for someone who doesn’t look or live exactly like you?” she said.
But by far the biggest log jam was caused by Sen. Manchin (D-WV) who threatened to withhold his support for the bill over unemployment benefits. As originally passed by the House, jobless payments would have increased from $300 to $400 and extended through August. But Sen. Manchin, who has repeatedly suggested that $400 might keep workers from rejoining the workforce, forced senate Democrats to abandon that plan and compromise. In their final form, unemployment benefits are now capped at $300/week and will extend through September. The first $10,200 in benefits will also be non-taxable so that people who received the benefits will not have to pay taxes on them. The tax relief is only available to those with household incomes below $150,000.
The final vote on the American Rescue Plan Act concluded the reconciliation process which Democrats used to push the bill through with a simple majority vote. The fast-track option also protects the plan from the filibuster. The bill must now return to the House for a final vote before being sent to Pres. Biden for signing.
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