The United States Senate has narrowly passed an amended version of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus bill, sending the legislation back to the US House of Representatives for final approval.
In an around-the-clock session that began on Friday, US legislators worked through a series of amendments on Saturday morning before passing the legislation in a 50-49 vote.
Republican and Democratic senators had argued over how long to extend enhanced unemployment benefits and how much to offer during the pandemic, which has left millions of Americans reeling and battered the country’s economy.
The bill will return to the House of Representatives for final approval next week, after which legislators can send it to Biden for his signature.
“We tell the American people, help is on the way,” said Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
“Our job right now is to help our country get from this stormy present to that hopeful future.”
The bill has been one of Biden’s top priorities in the early weeks of his presidency, as he had promised to enact a programme to tackle the surging pandemic and provide financial support for hard-hit citizens.
This past week, he urged Democrats to pass the legislation quickly, even without support from Republicans.
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.
Republicans had raised concerns about the bill’s hefty price tag and some more moderate members of the party in January had tried to get Biden to scale back the legislation – a request that was ultimately rebuffed.
“The Senate has never spent $2 trillion in a more haphazard way,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“Their top priority wasn’t pandemic relief. It was their Washington wish list,” McConnell said, referring to Democrats.