The latest on the Covid-19 stimulus bill

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

Updated 10:58 PM ET, Wed March 3, 2021
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6:13 p.m. ET, March 3, 2021

Senate won't take up Covid-19 relief bill tonight

From CNN's Manu Raju, Ted Barrett and Lauren Fox

A Senate Democratic aide said they are still waiting for the official cost estimate before bringing their newly revised Covid-19 relief bill to the floor. There won't be the initial procedural vote tonight as Democratic leaders had hoped.

In essence, this means the first procedural vote would happen as soon as tomorrow, but we still don't know when that will be. And after the procedural vote, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson will force the bill to be read aloud by Senate clerks. The reading will take about 10 hours.

After the 10 hours, then there will be up to 20 hours of debate on the floor.

After that floor debate, then the vote-a-rama will occur — which will go on until senators decide to no longer offer amendments. It could stretch into the weekend.

The Senate just adjourned for the evening.

6:14 p.m. ET, March 3, 2021

Biden thanks Democratic lawmakers for "staying unified" in backing Covid relief bill

From CNN's DJ Judd 

President Biden speaks during a virtual meeting with the House Democratic Caucus on Wednesday.
President Biden speaks during a virtual meeting with the House Democratic Caucus on Wednesday. Alex Brandon/AP

President Biden touted his administration’s Covid relief proposal in remarks Wednesday, telling members of the House Democratic Caucus the House-passed American Rescue Plan “is good policy, and is good politics.”

He went on to call the bill the most “broadly popular” piece of legislation he’s seen in his career in government.

“I've served in the Congress for 36 years before becoming vice president for eight. We never had anything this urgent and this ambitious that was so widely embraced,” Biden told lawmakers in a virtual address from the White House South Court auditorium, citing favorable polling on the relief package.

“Americans are in lockstep in each of the major elements of the plan,” he added.

No Republicans joined Democrats in passing the bill through the House, and no Republican senators have announced their support for the package, which the Senate is slated to vote for later this week.

Still, Biden thanked Democrats for their support and urged them to stay unified in backing his administration’s plan for Covid relief, telling the members of Congress watching, “Staying unified as we complete this process of pass the American Rescue Plan won't just make a difference in our fight against COVID-19 and our efforts to rebuild the economy, but will also show the American people are capable of coming together for what matters most to them.”

“I know we're all making some small compromises, but I want to thank you I want to thank you for the work you've done. I want to thank you for the work we're gonna continue to do,” Biden said. “I know parts of this and everything else we seek to do are not easy, but people are gonna remember how we showed up in this moment, how we listen to them, to them, not to special interests, to them and how we took action.”

5:26 p.m. ET, March 3, 2021

Sen. Ron Johnson plans further delay tactics beyond just forcing a reading of relief bill

From CNN's Manu Raju 


tefani Reynolds/Bloomberg/Getty Images
tefani Reynolds/Bloomberg/Getty Images

In addition to forcing a full reading of the $1.9 trillion relief bill, a process that could take 10 hours, Sen. Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin, said he plans other stall tactics to drag out floor debate.

He said he may object to dispensing with the reading of the text of every amendment being offered, a move that would force Senate clerks to read the language of the avalanche of amendments that will be offered as well.

"I think that would be a good idea," he told CNN when asked if he would force a reading of every amendment. "We're talking about $1.9 trillion ... a stack of $1 billion dollars that would extend halfway past the distance to the moon. And we want to do this in a matter of hours? I don't think that's right."

Johnson wouldn't say how many days he would attempt to drag out floor debate, something he can do under the free-flowing rules of debate over budget reconciliation legislation. But he said he would offer as many amendments as he feels he needs to — and it would go on for "however long that takes."

In order to offer an amendment, Johnson would need the support of 13 of his colleagues in order for the presiding officer to recognize there is a "sufficient second" so there could be a floor vote on that proposal to change the underlying bill.

It's unclear if there will be 13 GOP senators who will agree with Johnson to drag out the votes for several days as he seems to be attempting to do.

"We can break this up into four shifts of 13 people if the entire Republican Conference is on board," Johnson said. "I feel like I have a great deal of support in the conference."

Asked if Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is on board with his plan, Johnson said, "I haven't gotten any negative pushback."

When asked about Johnson's plan to force a full reading of the bill, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said, "I haven't heard about."

Johnson responded, "He loves it."

3:55 p.m. ET, March 3, 2021

One of the Democrats' most conservative senators says he's pleased with direction of Covid relief bill

From CNN's Ted Barrett and Manu Raju

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

Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, said he is “very pleased” with changes being made to the Covid relief bill, strongly signaling he’s ready to vote for the bill although stopping short of directly saying so.

Manchin, among the most conservative Democrats in the Senate, said he is still pushing to lower the weekly federal unemployment insurance payments in the bill from $400 to $300 a week, but suggested the issue is not a dealbreaker.

“I just think the bill really does have enough good stuff that we should be able to make this work. We really should,” the West Virginia lawmaker said.

President Biden has agreed to make other changes to the House-passed Covid relief bill at the request of centrists in the Senate, including skewing stimulus checks away from higher earners. The Senate is set to bring the bill to the floor sometime this week.

“I’m very pleased with the discussions and the dialogues and the changes that have been agreed upon,” Manchin said. “I want to make sure I see the final product, I haven’t seen that yet. They’re still drafting.”

2:56 p.m. ET, March 3, 2021

Biden will make another push for Covid-19 relief in meeting with House Democrats later today

From CNN's Jeff Zeleny and Betsy Klein

Alex Brandon/AP
Alex Brandon/AP

President Biden is expected to continue his engagement on the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill Wednesday evening when he addresses the House Democratic Caucus meeting virtually. The meeting is set for 5 p.m. ET.

Biden will speak for about two minutes and then take two questions from members, a White House official said, as he works to get the American Rescue Plan passed before unemployment benefits expire for millions of Americans on March 14.

“We’ve reserved time in his schedule to ensure that he can be engaged, roll up his sleeves and be personally involved in making calls, having more zoom meetings, potentially having people across the Oval Office to get this across the finish line,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Monday, adding that she expected Biden “to be very involved personally.” 
3:50 p.m. ET, March 3, 2021

Senate GOP plans to force a full reading of Covid relief bill — and it could take 10 hours

From CNN's Manu Raju

Senate Minority Whip John Thune is flanked by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, left, and US Sen. Roy Blunt during a news conference on Tuesday.
Senate Minority Whip John Thune is flanked by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, left, and US Sen. Roy Blunt during a news conference on Tuesday. Samuel Corum/Getty Images

Republicans are signaling they plan to force Senate clerks to read the full $1.9 trillion relief bill aloud. Typically that process is dispensed with, but any single member can object and force a full reading of the bill.

That alone could take 10 hours — even before votes begin.

Sen. Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin, told a Wisconsin radio station he may try to drag the process out into the weekend, which he can do as long as he has another senator who seconds his motions to keep offering amendments. 

"I'm going to make them read their 600 and 700 page bill," Johnson said, confirming he will object to dispensing with the reading of the bill. 

Johnson also signaled he plans to force a huge amount of amendments to drag out the process. "We need to keep this process going. .. I'm going to lead the effort to resist this thing."

“It’s going to go longer than it’s ever gone before,” Sen. Mike Braun, a Republican from Indiana, said when asked how long he anticipated the voting session known as vote-a-rama to drag out.

“We are going to start with a full reading” of the bill. “I’d be for that.”

Senate Minority Whip John Thune confirmed to CNN that it’s “very possible” they force a full reading of the massive bill.

2:26 p.m. ET, March 3, 2021

Small business community calls for PPP loan approval deadline to be extended

From CNN's Vanessa Yurkevich

The small business community is calling on Congress to extend the March 31 Paycheck Protection Program loan deadline, warning that “many eligible businesses, independent contractors, sole proprietors, and self-employed people will not be approved” in that time frame. 

In a letter to Senate and House leaders, 65 Chambers of Commerce, lenders, small business owners and national trade organizations are calling for the PPP deadline to be extended to June 30.

“There is simply not enough time in the next month for the SBA and ~5,000 lenders to convert rule changes into technical, content, support, and compliance updates and then get new applicants processed, approved, and funded,” the letter states, which includes signatures from companies like Lendio, as well as groups like the Small Business Majority, and the National Small Business Association.

To date, the Small Business Administration, or SBA, has processed 2 million loans in this latest round through 5,100 lenders, totaling $140 billion dollars. The total loan program is funded for $310 billion. 

But some of the lenders who signed the letter to Congress say they have hundreds of thousands of backlogged applicants. New rules and changes to the program are causing a lag in processing, they claim.

“Due to additional front-end compliance checks, a time lapse is occurring between when a lender submits a PPP loan application to the SBA and when the SBA provides a loan number back to the lender. Lenders may only proceed to close the loan once the loan number is given,” the SBA said in an email to CNN.

The Biden administration announced an exclusive two-week window for businesses with less than 20 employees to apply for PPP loans, from Feb. 24 to March 10. However, lenders say there is confusion, as many are still waiting on new rules about how sole proprietors may apply for loans – many have less than 20 employees. The SBA says the new rules are due out this week.

That may cause an additional delay in processing, according to small business advocates.

“Many applications will require revisions after new rules are published this week. And another wave of applications is widely expected. We all want small businesses to survive so we can rebuild our communities. Therefore, we ask that you extend the Paycheck Protection Program until at least June 30, 2021,” the letter reads.

1:52 p.m. ET, March 3, 2021

Bipartisan group of 16 senators meeting right now ahead of votes on Covid-19 relief plan

From CNN's Ted Barrett and Manu Raju

A bipartisan group of 16 senators are meeting right now ahead of votes on the Covid-19 relief plan, according to an aide.

It’s unclear if they will be able to agree on any amendments that would change the contours of the bill.

The Senate’s vote-a-rama could start tomorrow afternoon. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said earlier today in remarks on the Senate floor that the chamber will move to take up the relief package “as early as tonight.”

Meanwhile, a Democratic source told CNN Wednesday, President Biden has agreed to a compromise with moderate Democrats to narrow the income eligibility for the next round of $1,400 stimulus checks that are included in the Senate bill.

1:46 p.m. ET, March 3, 2021

Pelosi says "so far so good" as Senate makes changes, but wants to see whole relief package

From CNN's Clare Foran

Patrick Semansky/AP
Patrick Semansky/AP

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that Democrats want to see “the total package when it comes out, but so far so good,” as the Senate works on tweaks to the Covid relief bill before bringing the bill to a vote.

Pelosi made the comments to a reporter when asked specifically if she is okay with a lower threshold for stimulus checks. 

The Hill team has reported that President Biden has agreed to a compromise with moderate Democrats to narrow the income eligibility for the next round of $1,400 stimulus checks included in the Senate bill. 

Separately, Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan, a former co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, took issue with Democrats over what he described as a “stupid” negotiation, but signaled the change won’t kill the deal. 

“The Senate is going to have seriously look at their rules if this is going to hold things up or make stupid negotiations like this occur. At some point we may have to do more pushing to help them come around to something,” he said, but added, “This has to get out there. I don’t know if it pays to just jockey back and forth at that point.”