The United States Senate voted 50-49 in favor of passing the final version of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill on Saturday, Mar. 6.
The voting session lasted for 24 hours. Of all the votes, every single Democrat in the Senate voted for the bill, and every single Republican in the Senate voted against it. Republican Senator Dan Sullivan of Alaska was absent for the vote due to being away at a family funeral.
The relief package, also known as the American Rescue Plan and one of Biden’s largest campaign promises, is set to provide a new round of payments to Americans struggling financially due to the pandemic.
The package is also set to provide an increase to the child tax credit, and an extension of supplemental unemployment benefits lasting until Sept. 6, 2021. The bill is currently being prioritized due to the fact that current federal unemployment benefits are set to expire Mar. 14.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stressed how important bi-partisan support on the bill was in order to “save lives and livelihoods” on Saturday. However, bi-partisan support is extremely scarce. Most all Republicans in the Senate have ruthlessly criticized President Biden’s relief package, as well as the Democrats’ strategy of pushing the bill to the Senate by way of budget reconciliation, passing the package without the support of any Republicans.
“Democrats decided their top priority wasn’t pandemic relief,” said Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy in an interview with CNBC. “It was their Washington wish list. It was jamming through unrelated policy changes they couldn’t pass honestly. A colossal missed opportunity for our nation.”
Despite this criticism, President Biden is thrilled with the passing of his bill.
“When we took office 45 days ago, I promised the American people that help was on the way,” said Biden. “Today, I can say we’ve taken one more giant step forward in delivering on that promise.”
Biden also stressed the importance of the package, noting the unfortunate milestone of 500,000 American lives lost to COVID-19. He also noted the closings of hundreds of small businesses, millions of American citizens out of work and so many families struggling to pay for food and rent.
“It obviously wasn’t easy, it wasn’t always pretty, but it was so desperately needed,” said Biden.
The Senate version added a provision to the bill that makes any student loan forgiveness passed between Dec. 31, 2020, and Jan. 1, 2026, tax-free, instead of treating the forgiven debt as taxable income.
Over $128 billion in grants to are set to go to state educational agencies, with 90% of this money allocated to local educational agencies. $39 billion is set to go to higher education institutions, like Alma College.
“I think [the bill] is a step in the right direction,” said David Troyer (‘24). “I’m glad about it. I know a lot of people didn’t get a lot of income this year, because no one really knew what was going on, through no fault of our own.”
Though getting it to pass through the Senate was the big hurdle, the bill has not reached the end of its journey. It is set to be taken up by the House of Representatives the week of Mar. 8, then to President Biden’s desk for his signature.
“I find it considerate that the government is trying to help,” said Troyer. “They’re trying to make sure that us ‘common folk’ are alright, especially those of us who are trying to get ourselves educated in an economy that’s becoming more increasingly demanding.”