The latest on the Covid-19 stimulus bill

By Melissa Macaya, Melissa Mahtani, Meg Wagner, Veronica Rocha and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 8:01 p.m. ET, March 2, 2021
16 Posts
Sort byDropdown arrow
7:09 p.m. ET, March 2, 2021

Pelosi's office says 2 controversial projects will be pulled from Covid bill

From CNN's Ryan Nobles and Lauren Fox

Two big projects originally slated to be part of the Covid-19 relief bill but criticized as being unrelated to coronavirus relief will be pulled from the package, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office confirmed to CNN on Tuesday.

The original bill, passed by the House, included more than $1.4 billion in funding to help with transit rail capital projects, including the extension of the Bay Area Rapid Transit line from San Jose to Santa Clara, California. It had been part of $30 billion in support for public transportation in the relief package, but Pelosi's office said Tuesday that the Senate parliamentarian had ruled against its inclusion because it was part of a pilot project.

The relief package will also no longer include funding for the Seaway International Bridge in upstate New York. The $1.5 million in funding had been proposed during the Trump administration and supported by Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik, whose district includes the bridge.

A Senate source told CNN that the request to including funding for the bridge in the relief legislation was originally made by the Department of Transportation under the Trump administration in spring 2020 and that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, hadn't known the funding was in the bill until he read about it in media reports.

Republicans have held up both projects as examples of spending in the bill that would benefit the Democratic leaders' districts and home states and have very little to do with helping Americans recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. Stefanik did not support the relief bill and said the funding for the bridge should not have been included.

The BART extension is not in Pelosi's California district and would have occurred 50 miles south of the area she represents.

Pelosi spokesperson Drew Hammill said Tuesday that Covid had "an immediate and overwhelming effect on all of our transportation systems and the millions of transportation and construction jobs associated with them," but now with the two projects removed, he added, "it is unclear how Republicans will justify their opposition" to the legislation.

7:12 p.m. ET, March 2, 2021

Republicans plot painful last hours for Democrats as they push to pass Covid relief

From CNN's Lauren Fox

Sen. John Cornyn
Sen. John Cornyn Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg/Getty Images

As President Biden urges Democrats to remain united against poison pill amendments that may come up in an hours-long, overnight vote-a-rama later this week, Republicans are preparing to make the final hours of the Democratic efforts to pass their relief bill politically painful and physically exhausting.

Republicans are aiming to put Democrats on the spot on not just making their bill more targeted — something some moderates have been calling for — but also pulling out specific and controversial provisions in the Covid relief bill. Multiple Republicans, for example, had been planning amendments to make Democrats take tough votes on two transit projects in New York and California that they — and some Democrats — had criticized as having nothing to do with Covid relief. Those projects were stripped out of the bill Tuesday evening. 

Multiple GOP members and aides familiar with the planning tell CNN that the plan is two-fold: try to peel Democratic members off on a few key amendment votes to demonstrate differences within the Democratic ranks as well as create some ripe for campaign moments that can be made into political ads later on. It’s a similar strategy they already deployed in February during the initial vote-a-rama on the bill.

“It’s all about TV commercials,” Sen. John Cornyn said. “Make people accountable for their votes. There is not much they can do if they are determined to hang together there is nothing we can do to change the outcome. If they really want to do this, they can probably get it done.”

Unlike the last vote-a-rama where amendment votes didn’t have the power of law, the vote-a-rama ahead will be a real opportunity to change the underlying bill. Any amendment only needs 51 votes to pass, but there is a catch. At the very end of the process, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer can introduce a final amendment that would strip any changes from the bill. That’s exactly what Schumer did the last time around to ensure the underlying bill was intact. Still, Schumer has urged Democrats privately to vote against Republican amendments that comes up and not split the caucus.

“I would hope that we could get some amendments on the bill that make it better, but also at the end, I would hope we don’t see another substitute amendment that totally undoes what the Senate had agreed on,” said Sen. Deb Fischer, a Republican from Nebraska.

In his private call with Senate Democrats Tuesday, Biden urged his caucus to stay in line. But, the amendments presented over the next 48 hours will put Democrats in a tough position to not just stay united, but also stay consistent. Last time around, several amendments passed with Democratic support including one that allowed for the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline to continue. Another amendment to block high-end earners from receiving stimulus payments passed with overwhelmingly bipartisan support. And a group of eight Democrats voted “yes” on an amendment that would have banned immigrants in the country illegally from receiving stimulus checks.

“The best campaign ads are the ones about how a politician was for something before they were against it,” one Republican senator told CNN about the planned strategy ahead.

Democrats are also facing internal divisions about how to handle an amendment planned from someone on their own side. Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, has said he plans to introduce an amendment that would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. While Schumer has privately encouraged Democrats to vote against every Republican amendment presented during the vote-a-rama, many Democrats believe Sanders’ amendment violates the spirit of unity among the caucus and it’s causing heartburn.

“Sanders has created the most difficult vote for Democrats,” one Democratic aide told CNN.

Adding the amendment to the bill runs afoul to the parliamentarian’s guidance and stripping it from the bill would put the onus on Schumer to remove it, a difficult political position for the majority leader.

Democrats are still working to finalize their relief bill in the next 24 hours with a series of outstanding issues from increasing funding for broadband to including money for rural hospitals through the provider relief fund still outstanding. Multiple aides familiar with the talks are still optimistic that the legislation would come to the floor for consideration tomorrow. Once that happens, there will be 20 hours of debate before the vote-a-rama.

6:52 p.m. ET, March 2, 2021

Here's what you need to know about stimulus negotiations moving forward

The pressure is on for the Senate to pass another Covid-19 relief bill after the House pushed through their version over the weekend. Here's a look at what has happened so far, what comes next and what is a sticking point for lawmakers on both sides.

What has happened so far:

  • The House passed its package Saturday. It includes $1,400 direct checks for Americans making less than $75,000 and extends federal unemployment benefits. It also adds an increase in the child tax credit, direct funding to state and local governments, funding for schools and more money for vaccine distribution.

The next step:

  • Now, the Senate will vote. If passed in the chamber, the bill will have to go back to the House for a separate vote.
  • The Senate version will include changes suggested by the parliamentarian – which means there will likely be no minimum wage increase included.
  • If that passes by the end of the week, it gives the House time to re-pass the new version in their own chamber. It also gives the President time to sign it and gives states an opportunity to readjust their unemployment benefits with the increased benefit.
  • House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer predicted confidently that the House would pass the new version of the bill, shutting down the possibility that progressives, who have said they will do anything to get minimum wage passed, would go as far as not supporting the final version of the legislation if the key proposal is not included.

More on the minimum wage piece:

  • The Senate parliamentarian ruled against including it under the procedure known as reconciliation, which Senate Democrats are using to pass the bill with a simple majority vote.
  • The Senate version will also not include the so-called Plan B drafted by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden that would have penalized corporations that didn't increase wages on their own.
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that the battle on minimum wage is not over, saying there will be "other reconciliations."
3:37 p.m. ET, March 2, 2021

Pelosi says minimum wage fight not over: "We will have other reconciliations"

From CNN's Ryan Nobles and Kristin Wilson 

Patrick Semansky/AP
Patrick Semansky/AP

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that the battle on minimum wage, which will not be part of the Covid-19 relief bill that is making its way through the Senate, is not over. 

“Just because this may not survive the Senate right now doesn’t mean the fight is anywhere near over,” she said as Democratic leadership kicked off this year’s Caucus Issue Conference. She called the $15 minimum wage “wildly popular” and the current rate of $7.25 per hour “pathetic.”

When asked by CNN’s Ryan Nobles how Democrats will get a minimum wage bill to pass and whether they’d lost their best opportunity to get it done in the relief bill.

“We will have other reconciliations,” Pelosi said, referring to the process by which a spending bill can clear both chambers by a simple majority.

Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries defended the House’s push to include the minimum wage in their bill, despite the threat that it would be stripped from the package.

“The administration put forth a transformative American Rescue plan. But the House is the House and the Senate is the Senate, and they have a parliamentarian,” he said. “And I’m not going to speak on what their process will yield.”

1:56 p.m. ET, March 2, 2021

Biden tells Senate Democrats they may need to accept provisions in Covid relief bill they do not like

From CNN's Manu Raju

 Anna Moneymaker-Pool/Getty Images/FILE
 Anna Moneymaker-Pool/Getty Images/FILE

President Biden made an aggressive pitch to Senate Democrats for his relief plan, telling them during a virtual meeting that they all need to accept some provisions they might not like but also must demonstrate to the American people they are responding to the devastating public health and economic crises, according to a source with direct knowledge of the discussion.

Biden told Democrats that the vote he is asking them to take isn't politically difficult, arguing that it is popular and has bipartisan support outside the halls of Congress, the source said. Biden said Democrats need to show voters they can accomplish this major achievement, while conceding they may have to accept some pieces of the plan they might not favor.

Biden spoke for roughly 15 minutes or so and didn't take questions, the source said.

What happens next: The Senate heads into a daunting voting session later this week where any amendment — with 51 votes — can alter the underlying bill and upset the delicate Democratic coalition in Congress needed to pass the bill by the slimmest of majorities.

12:52 p.m. ET, March 2, 2021

House majority leader expresses confidence on passage of Covid bill when it returns to House 

From CNN's Annie Grayer

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) (C) wears a protective mask while walking to the House Floor at the U.S. Capitol on January 13, 2021 in Washington, DC. 
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) (C) wears a protective mask while walking to the House Floor at the U.S. Capitol on January 13, 2021 in Washington, DC.  Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer predicted confidently that the House would easily clear the Senate-passed Covid bill when it returns to the House chamber next week.

He shut down the possibility that progressives, who have said they will do anything to get minimum wage passed, would go as far as not supporting the final version of the legislation if the key proposal is not included.

 "I cannot believe that the people who voted to send it to the Senate will not also vote to pass it and send it to the president for his signature,” Hoyer told reporters. "It’s going to pass when it comes back."

This prediction comes as progressives are exploring all options to force the minimum wage provision in this reconciliation process.

By the same token, Hoyer drew a line saying he did not expect any Senator to add an amendment to the legislation that would make it an issue passing back in the House, stating “I can’t believe that any amendment that the Senate could adopt” that would be “so egregious that the House would not vote for it."

Hoyer said he expects the Senate to pass their version of the Covid relief bill on Friday or Saturday and that the House will take it back up on Monday, which is why he said he changed the schedule for next week.

Asked if he agreed with arguments made by progressives that the reconciliation process is the best way to pass Covid relief because it does not require support from Republicans, Hoyer said that the White House has made its calculation and clearly is not going to overrule the parliamentarian and therefore the path forward is for Democrats to think about how they can work with Republicans to get the measure passed after passing a stand-alone bill in the House.

“We're going to have to work with Republicans,” Hoyer said. “We're going to send that over to the Senate, and hope that in the Senate, there are 10 senators who believe that having people work for $7.25, an hour and in poverty after 40 hours of work week is not right in America.”

Hoyer did say that he believed the filibuster was “undemocratic,” tapping into a long-held argument by progressives, and potentially the next frontier of the minimum wage fight.


12:44 p.m. ET, March 2, 2021

Schumer says Senate will begin work on Covid relief package as early as tomorrow

From CNN's Nicky Robertson

Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg/Getty Images
Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg/Getty Images

The Senate will begin its work on President Biden’s $1.9 trillion dollar American Rescue Plan as early as tomorrow, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in remarks on the Senate floor.

 “As early as tomorrow the Senate will begin work on the American Rescue Plan,” he said.

Schumer defended the need for the economic plan, the price-tag of which has been a sticking point for many Senate Republicans.

“But the economy is not strong enough to sustain things on its own. We need strong relief to get the economy going so it can continue on an upward path on its own. That's what this bill is designed to do,” Schumer added.


12:09 p.m. ET, March 2, 2021

Manchin says he’s still fighting for $300 unemployment instead of $400 in Covid-19 relief bill

From CNN's Lauren Fox

Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, tells reporters that he still hopes that the stimulus bill will decrease the federal unemployment benefit from $400 a week to $300 a week even as he acknowledged that leadership isn’t on board.

“I’ve been at $300. I think $300 is where we’ve been. It’s consistent with what we’ve been doing,” Manchin said.

“It’s kind of hard to explain the bump up now when we’re getting ready to come off... I would prefer it they stay at $300.”

Asked about making this change, Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, a more liberal member, told reporters it wouldn’t be a red line for him but he’d prefer the benefit stayed at $400.

Manchin’s call represents the latest in a series of discussions moderate Democrats are pushing in the closing days of negotiations over the stimulus. Moderates have also pushed to include more funding for broadband and specifically target state and local funding to include infrastructure projects. Behind the scenes some of those items have been gaining traction with leadership while others like lowering the weekly unemployment benefit have not. 

Manchin said his concern is the weekly benefit is so high that he just wants to make sure that once businesses begin opening this summer when people are vaccinated that there are enough workers. Pushed on if this is a red line for him, Manchin did not say.

“The bottom line is we are getting some language that will really help us work the bill, and I’m always here for that”

Reminded leadership does not back this idea, Manchin said he didn’t know where things would end up.

“We just don’t know,” Manchin said.

He also told reporters that Biden isn’t getting involved in the debate and he does not blame him for that.

 “Joe is put in a hard position because he’s got people beating up on him all across the board,” Manchin said. “He is more inclined to let the process work and I appreciate that.”

President Biden is expected to join a Democratic caucus call this afternoon to urge the caucus to stay united in the days ahead.

Manchin said he expected negotiations on changes to the House bill to continue tonight and even into the morning.

11:37 a.m. ET, March 2, 2021

You likely will hear the term "budget reconciliation" a lot this week. Here's what it means.

From CNN's Ted Barrett, Lauren Fox and Paul LeBlanc,

Senate Democrats are laying the groundwork for passing their Covid relief bill without any Republican votes using a procedural shortcut known as budget reconciliation.

Reconciliation could allow Democrats to fast track key aspects of Biden's agenda, from Covid-19 relief to infrastructure, but the process comes with a strict set of rules attached.

The reconciliation process was set up as part of the 1974 Congressional Budget Act to make it faster and easier to pass legislation related to spending, taxes, and debt, because debate on the bills is limited to 20 hours and can be passed on a simple majority vote.

Budget reconciliation allows lawmakers to bypass the 60-vote threshold typically required for breaking filibusters and moving legislation forward.

Democrats currently control exactly 50 seats in the 100-seat chamber, and Vice President Kamala Harris holds the tie-breaking vote in her capacity as Senate president. That's enough for Democrats to be able to use reconciliation to pass some kinds of legislation.

Bills are only eligible for the budget reconciliation process if they affect federal revenue or spending. They are subject to what's known as the Byrd rule, a multi-pronged test designed to keep out provisions considered extraneous, without any real impact on the budget, or that might affect Social Security.

One part of the Democrats' plan already met some push back. The Senate parliamentarian ruled that the increase to minimum wage to $15 per hour did not meet a strict set of guidelines needed to move forward in the Senate's reconciliation process.

That means that even though the House passed its bill with the measure, the Senate will have to strip the minimum wage provision out.

Read more about reconciliation here.

CNN's Lauren Fox, Ryan Nobles, Manu Raju and Phil Mattingly contributed reporting to this post.