Coronavirus: US Senate approves $1.9tn relief bill

Bill provides direct payments of up to $1,400 for most Americans, starting this month

The US Senate has approved a $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill, part of which provisions for speeding up the manufacturing and distribution of vaccines. Video: Reuters

The US Senate has approved a $1.9 trillion (€1.5 trillion) Covid-19 relief bill as president Joe Biden and his Democratic allies notched a victory which they say is crucial for hoisting the US out of the twin crises of the pandemic and a faltering economy.

After labouring through the night on a mountain of amendments – nearly all from Republicans, all of which were rejected – senators approved the sprawling package on a 50-49 vote along party lines.

That sets up final congressional approval by the US house of representatives next week so that congress can send it to Mr Biden for his signature.

Mr Biden said on Saturday that Senate passage of his $1.9 trillion coronavirus aid bill means that $1,400 payments to most Americans will start to go out this month and the bill’s provisions will speed up manufacturing and distribution of vaccines.


Mr Biden, speaking at the White House after the American Rescue Plan bill passed the Senate, said that more than 85 per cent of American households will receive payments, with a couple with two children making $100,000 annually receiving about $5,600.

“We tell the American people: help is on the way,” said senate majority leader Chuck Schumer.

Citing the country’s desire to return to normality, he added: “Our job right now is to help our country get from this stormy present to that hopeful future.”

Biggest priority

The huge package – the total spend is nearly 10 per cent of the entire US economy – is Mr Biden’s biggest early priority.

It stands as his formula for addressing the virus and economy, twin crises that have afflicted the country for a year.

Saturday’s vote was also a crucial political moment for Mr Biden and the Democrats, who need nothing short of party unanimity in a balanced senate they run because of vice-president Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote.

They also have a slim 10-vote edge in the house.

A small but pivotal band of moderate Democrats leveraged changes in the bill that incensed progressives, not making it any easier for speaker Nancy Pelosi to guide the measure through the house.

But rejection of their first signature bill was not an option for Democrats, who face two years of trying to run congress with virtually no room for error.

The bill provides direct payments of up to $1,400 for most Americans, extended emergency unemployment benefits, and vast piles of spending for Covid-19 vaccines and testing, states and cities, schools and ailing industries, along with tax breaks to help lower-earning people, families with children and consumers buying health insurance.

The package faced solid opposition from Republicans, who call the package a wasteful spending spree for Democrats’ liberal allies that ignores recent indications that the pandemic and the economy could be turning the corner.

“The senate has never spent two trillion dollars in a more haphazard way,” said senate minority leader Mitch McConnell.

Of the Democrats, he said: “Their top priority wasn’t pandemic relief. It was their Washington wish list.” – AP, Reuters