(C) Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Capitol Building is reflected against an ambulance along the East Front on Capitol Hill in Washington
By Makini Brice
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate is expected to begin debating President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package on Thursday after agreeing to phase out payments to higher-income Americans in a compromise with moderate Democratic senators.
The Democratic-controlled Senate is scheduled to reconvene at noon (1700 GMT), when it will consider a motion to launch 20 hours of debate on the massive bill. Republicans’ response to the motion will likely be an early indication of the steep opposition the bill faces in the chamber.
The Senate will convene despite a warning by the U.S. Capitol Police that it had obtained intelligence about a militia group’s possible plot to breach the Capitol on Thursday, a day some conspiracy theorists believe that Republican former President Donald Trump will be sworn in for a second term.
The House of Representatives canceled its Thursday session after the Capitol Police’s warning.
The relief bill, Biden’s top legislative priority, includes funding for vaccines and medical supplies, extends jobless assistance and provides a new round of emergency financial aid to households, small businesses and state and local governments.
But it will block individual Americans earning $80,000 or more a year or couples earning $160,000 or more a year from receiving stimulus checks.
The legislation passed by the Democratic-majority House of Representatives last week had a higher income cutoff – $100,000 for individuals and $200,000 for couples filing their taxes jointly.
The compromise means that 9 million fewer households will receive a stimulus payment than in the last tranche of payouts in 2020.
Another provision sought by the Biden administration – a raise to the federal minimum wage – was dropped after the Senate parliamentarian ruled last week it could not be included.
Under Trump, the then-Republican-controlled Senate passed several massive coronavirus relief packages. Now, however, Republican senators are balking at the price tag of Biden’s bill.
In a speech on the floor of the Senate on Wednesday, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell called the bill a “vast catalog of liberal spending” packed with “crazy provisions” unrelated to the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 517,000 Americans and left millions jobless.
Republican Senator Ron Johnson told a Wisconsin radio station on Wednesday that he planned to drag the process out by requiring the reading of the entire bill, instead of merely the title, as is customary. The House version of the bill is 630 pages long.
But a Morning Consult/Politico opinion poll https://morningconsult.com/2021/03/03/coronavirus-stimulus-voter-support-bipartisan showed large bipartisan support for the legislation. It said 77% of all voters and 59% of Republicans backed the plan.
Democrats hope Biden can sign it into law before March 14, when some of the current benefits run out.
In the Senate, bills usually require the support of 60 senators. But the coronavirus relief bill is being advanced under a legislative maneuver known as reconciliation that allows passage with a simple majority vote.
The 48 Senate Democrats and the two independents who caucus with them control 50 seats, exactly half the 100-seat chamber, but Vice President Kamala Harris, a Democrat, can cast votes to break ties.
U.S. Senate expected to begin debating coronavirus package on Thursday
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