The latest on the Covid-19 stimulus bill

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

Updated 8:14 PM ET, Thu March 4, 2021
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1:00 p.m. ET, March 4, 2021

Romney supports GOP senator's plan to delay Covid-19 relief vote

From CNN's Ali Zaslav

Shawn Thew/Pool/Getty Images
Shawn Thew/Pool/Getty Images

Sen. Mitt Romney, Republican from Utah, said he supports fellow Republican Sen. Ron Johnson’s plan to delay the vote on the 1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package.

“I do, yes,” Romney replied, when a reporter asked if he agrees with the Wisconsin Republican’s proposal to slow down the vote by having the entire relief bill read aloud.

The reading by Senate clerks could last about 10 hours.  

Johnson reiterated Thursday morning that he is “absolutely” committed to objecting to force a full reading of the 600-page bill.

11:34 a.m. ET, March 4, 2021

The Senate is still expected to be in session today despite warnings of potential threats to the Capitol

From CNN's Geneva Sands and Zachary Cohen

Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Federal law enforcement is on high alert today in the wake of an intelligence bulletin issued earlier this week about a group of violent militia extremists having discussed plans to take control of the US Capitol and remove Democratic lawmakers on or about March 4 — a date when some conspiracy theorists believe former President Donald Trump will return to the presidency.

US officials on Wednesday alerted lawmakers to a potential threat, for which security has been enhanced as a precaution. The House changed its schedule in light of warnings from US Capitol Police, moving a vote planned for Thursday to Wednesday night to avoid being in session today.

The Senate is still expected to be in session to work on the Covid-19 relief bill.

Some more background: The joint warning from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday underscores a broader effort by federal agencies to avoid repeating the mistakes made ahead of Jan. 6, when officers were overtaken by a violent pro-Trump mob that stormed the Capitol.

Those intelligence sharing and planning failures have been laid bare over the last two months in several hearings and have been a focal point of criticism from lawmakers investigating the violent attack that left several people dead.

The violent extremists also discussed plans to persuade thousands to travel to Washington, DC, to participate in the March 4 plot, according to the joint intelligence bulletin.

One source noted to CNN that it is mostly online talk and not necessarily an indication anyone is coming to Washington to act on it.

Watch Shimon Prokupecz and Donie O'Sullivan report from the ground in DC:

5:39 p.m. ET, March 4, 2021

You likely will hear the term "vote-a-rama" a lot today. Here's what it means. 

From CNN's Clare Foran and Ted Barrett

Susan Walsh/AP
Susan Walsh/AP

A procedural move to advance the Senate bill now seems on track for a vote Thursday, a Senate Democratic aide told CNN, with Democratic leaders still waiting Wednesday evening for the official cost estimate before bringing the newly revised bill to the floor.

At some point, the Senate is expected to move into a "vote-a-rama."

It is a tradition in the chamber that typically involves a large number of votes on amendments that can stretch for hours and last until late in the night.

It is frequently used by lawmakers to force tough votes that put members of the opposing party on the record on controversial issues.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin said of the process, "Members start with a great number of amendments and great resolve and eventually it dwindles down to a handful of amendments and no resolve. People just want to get out of here."

"It does not serve the purpose of debate on public policy. It is an endurance contest and a gotcha contest, and I think the Senate should rise to a higher level," the Illinois Democrat added.

Remember: Once the Senate passes its version of the bill, it would need to be approved once again by the House before heading to the President's desk for his signature.

10:02 a.m. ET, March 4, 2021

How things could play out in the Senate today

From CNN's Lauren Fox

Al Drago/Getty Images
Al Drago/Getty Images

The short answer is we don't know exactly when Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will bring the chamber's Covid-19 relief legislation to the floor. 

Democrats were still waiting for Congressional Budget Office and Joint Committee on Taxation scores Wednesday night to make sure they are in compliance with their own budget reconciliation rules. The budget they passed last month set specific criteria for how much each committee had to spend.

Before the bill goes to the floor, they have to make sure they hit those targets or the bill loses its privilege to be passed with 51 votes. It's an important step of this process and what they are waiting for at this point. Once they know they are in compliance, they can move.

When he has the scores and checks that everything is compliant, Schumer will go to the floor and move to proceed to Covid-relief bill that passed the House. There will be a vote. It will only take 51 votes to overcome this hurdle.

What happens next: Schumer will offer an amendment that includes all of the changes Democrats had to make to this bill to make it compliant with the rules of budget reconciliation and some of the changes that moderates have insisted on.

This bill won't include the minimum wage increase, and it will have tightened income thresholds for who gets stimulus checks. It won't include controversial transportation projects in New York and California. It may also have other changes we will be on the lookout for.

At that point, Schumer will ask for the Senate to "dispense of the reading," aka skip the part where the clerks have to read the 600-page bill. Sen. Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin, has said he will object and force the reading. That could take about 10 hours.

Read more about the process here.

9:53 a.m. ET, March 4, 2021

Here are some key differences between the House and Senate Covid-19 relief bills

From CNN's Lauren Fox

Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images
Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images

The Senate bill we expect to see in the next several hours will look different than what the House passed, even if many of the most popular provisions and structures will remain untouched.

That's a reflection of the herculean task Democratic leadership and the White House have had to undertake in recent days as they've hustled to try and ensure that every Democratic senator had what they needed tucked inside to back this bill. It also means the bill will have to go back to the House for another vote next week before sending it to President Biden's desk.

We know of a few big ways the Senate bill will look different than what the House passed:

The bill won't include:

The bill will also change:

  • The income threshold for who is eligible to get Covid relief checks will be different. Once an individual makes $80,000, they won't get any relief check; in the House bill, that cutoff was $100,000. An individual making $75,000 a year will get the full $1,400 and it will be phased out up to $80,000.
  • Includes more money for rural hospitals
  • More funding to expand broadband
  • More money for FEMA to help the homeless
  • A slightly revised state and local formula that will help smaller population states and boosts the minimum they will receive.

Read more here.

9:12 a.m. ET, March 4, 2021

Voting process for Covid-19 relief bill could stretch into the weekend

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.

In essence, this means the first procedural vote would happen as soon as Thursday, 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.

5:39 p.m. ET, March 4, 2021

Catch up: Here's where things stand on the Senate's Covid-19 relief bill 

From CNN's Clare Foran and Ted Barrett

The Senate is bracing for a marathon effort and a late night of voting on amendments before lawmakers take a final vote on President Biden's $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill — it's just not yet clear exactly when that will take place.

Here's what you need to know about the Senate bill:

  • Where thing stand and what (may) happen next: A procedural move to advance the bill now seems on track for a vote Thursday, a Senate Democratic aide told CNN, with Democratic leaders still waiting Wednesday evening for the official cost estimate before bringing the newly revised bill to the floor. At some point, the Senate is expected to move into a vote-a-rama, a tradition in the chamber that typically involves a large number of votes on amendments that can stretch for hours and last until late in the night. It is frequently used by lawmakers to force tough votes that put members of the opposing party on the record on controversial issues.
  • What both sides are saying: Democrats say the legislation is urgently needed to address the continued devastation of the pandemic. Republicans, on the other hand, have denounced the bill as a partisan measure jam-packed with liberal priorities and are signaling they won't let it advance to a final vote without putting up a fight and dragging out the process. In addition to forcing a full reading of the bill, which could take 10 hours, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin has indicated he could take steps to stretch out the timeline for considering the legislation and any amendments offered to it.
  • Tweaks to the bill: In one of the latest developments related to the legislation, Biden 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, a Democratic source told CNN on Wednesday. The change has frustrated progressives, however.
  • A note on the process: Once the Senate passes its version of the bill, the process is still not over. The bill would need to be approved once again by the House before heading to the President's desk for his signature.

Read more here.

8:55 a.m. ET, March 4, 2021

Biden signed off on more limits to who can get $1,400 stimulus checks. These are the changes.

From CNN's Katie Lobosco

President Biden 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 a bill the Senate is expected to take up this week, a Democratic source told CNN Wednesday.

That means fewer families will receive a partial payment than would have under the original plan — completely cutting off those who earn more than $160,000 a year and individuals who earn more than $80,000 a year.

The House version of the bill set the income caps at $200,000 for couples and $100,000 for individual people.

But the same households will receive the full payment of $1,400 per person, including children. Individual people earning less than $75,000 and couples earning less than $150,000 will — just as in the House bill. Then, the payments will phase out faster for those earning more.

Unlike the previous two rounds, adult dependents — including college students — are expected to be eligible for the payments.

The House bill had already narrowed the eligibility compared earlier rounds of stimulus payments. It still would have sent money to more than 93% of tax filers, according to the nonpartisan Tax Foundation.

The federal government sent payments worth up to $1,200 per person last year and up to $600 in January. The next round is intended to top off the $600 checks so that individuals receive a total of $2,000.

8:55 a.m. ET, March 4, 2021

These are the pandemic unemployment benefits that will expire on March 14

From CNN's Tami Luhby and Katie Lobosco

Millions of Americans will start running out of pandemic unemployment benefits on March 14, putting increased pressure on the Senate to quickly pass its version of President Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package.

The jobless payments are among the first federal lifelines from December's $900 billion stimulus package set to expire, with additional provisions for expanded paid sick and family leave, small businesses, food stamps, housing protections and other relief lapsing in the following weeks and months.

Out-of-work Americans will get their last $300 federal weekly boost to jobless payments on March 14. And those in two key pandemic unemployment assistance will start running out of benefits at that time.

Some 4 million people in the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation programs will see their benefits expire in mid-March, while the payments of another 7.3 million folks will lapse over the following four weeks, according to a recent report from The Century Foundation.

The two temporary federal programs were created in Congress' $2 trillion relief package last March and were extended by 11 weeks in the $900 billion relief deal passed in December.

The former provides benefits to freelancers, gig workers, independent contractors and certain people affected by the pandemic, while the latter lengthens the duration of payments for those in the traditional state unemployment system.

The Senate is set this week to begin considering the massive package that passed the House early Saturday morning, largely along party lines.

But it will take some time to pass since senators are expected to make changes to the legislation — and then the House will have to vote on the revised bill before it is sent to Biden for his signature.