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Did the Senate pass the third stimulus check? Democrats are closer thanks to "vote-a-rama"

The Senate has voted in favour of a budget resolution which will allow the Democrats to use reconciliation to pass Biden's covid-19 relief bill without bipartisan support.

A budget resolution allowing the Democrats to use reconciliation to pass Biden's covid-19 relief bill has been passed after hours of debate in Congress.
Drew AngererAFP

On early Friday morning the Senate passed a budget resolution which paves the way for President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package to be passed. The 51-50 vote in the Senate required the tie-breaking intervention of Vice President Kamala Harris as both caucuses voted along party lines.

Although this does not formally pass Biden’s covid-19 relief bill, it allows the Democrats to go ahead with the reconciliation process which will allow them the pass the package without bipartisan support.

What happened with the Senate ‘vote-a-rama’?

Passage of the stimulus package came after a prolonged spell of amendments in the Senate known as ‘vote-a-rama’, where senators are able to table a series of amendments to the impending bill. This ritual has become a part of Senate business and serves as a way for each party to call for a vote on a series of contentious issues.

In this instance it allowed each party to get the other on record on a series of issues which may dictate the future of Biden’s coronavirus response. Most were roundly dismissed during this round of voting but one, related to the new round of stimulus checks, garnered almost unanimous support.

An amendment tabled by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine called for "upper income taxpayers" to be excluded from receiving the payments. Of the 100 Senators, 99 voted in favour in of the amendment suggesting that there is bipartisan support for tightening eligibility requirements.

At this stage the amendment is not binding but it will be food for thought for President Biden, who is already reportedly willing to make some concessions on the scope of the stimulus payments.

When will the new stimulus bill be passed?

This vote sees the budget resolution passed, but not the stimulus bill itself. The Senate vote simply set course for the Democrats to use reconciliation to pass Biden’s American Rescue Plan without bipartisan support.

Biden still retains hope of finding a bipartisan solution and, now that it is clear that a bill could be passed without the GOP, the Democrats have significant leverage in any future discussions.

But while there are some areas of agreement, like narrowing eligibility requirements, the Republicans’ recently-proposed $618b billion offer comes nowhere near the $1.9 trillion package Biden has tabled.

Democrats should have little trouble passing the stimulus bill in the House of Representatives, but may be slowed down by the packed schedule in the Senate. Next week the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump is due to begin, and there are also a number of Biden’s cabinet picks to be confirmed before they can take office.

It may well be late February or even March before the bill can be passed and distribution of the third rround of stimulus checks can begin.

You can follow all the latest developments on the covid-19 relief package on our Stimulus Check Updates: Live.


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