March 5, 2021 Covid-19 stimulus bill updates

By Melissa Macaya, Meg Wagner and Melissa Mahtani, CNN

Updated 9:02 a.m. ET, March 6, 2021
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9:10 a.m. ET, March 5, 2021

Catch up on where things stand on the Senate relief bill — and what we expect will happen today

From CNN's Lauren Fox and the Hill Team

The sun sets on the U.S. Capitol building, Thursday, March 4, 2021, in Washington.
The sun sets on the U.S. Capitol building, Thursday, March 4, 2021, in Washington. Alex Brandon/AP

In a matter of hours (big caveat on how many hours exactly), the Senate is expected to pass President Biden’s first major legislative agenda item through its chamber.

The $1.9 trillion relief bill provides extended unemployment benefits to Americans out of work, billions in funding to bolster vaccine distribution, expands health care access of the unemployed and incentivizes some states that never expanded Medicaid to finally take that step. This bill is massive. It’s costly, and it’s likely the last installment in a series of stimulus packages that bolstered the American economy through the worst pandemic in a century.

Here's what you need to know about the process, and how things could unfold today:

What happened yesterday:

  • The marathon effort to pass the $1.9 trillion legislation kicked off Thursday when senators voted to open debate on the bill, and in a sign of just how thin Democrats' majority is, Vice President Kamala Harris broke the tie advancing the bill.
  • Republicans opposed to the legislation forced the 628-page bill to be read aloud. The reading lasted more than 10 hours and concluded a little past 2 a.m. ET.

What happens today:

  • At 9 a.m. ET this morning, the Senate will reconvene and there will be three hours of debate evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats.
  • At around 12 p.m. ET, the vote-a-rama is expected to begin. This series of votes will go and can go for hours and yes, even days. The question is how much stamina members have, how long can they stand this process and how ready they are to jet off to begin their weekends. You can read more about the process here. Expect that Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont who caucuses with Democrats, will get the first amendment, which we expect will be on raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. We expect that won't have the Democratic votes to pass.

The goal of Republicans in this vote-a-rama is two-fold:

  1. They want to force Democrats into taking tough political votes on issues related to immigration and energy.
  2. They also want to try and peel off a few moderate Democrats in areas they think might attract some bipartisan support.

President Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer have made it a point repeatedly to the caucus that they’d prefer Democrats don’t vote “yes” on a single Republican amendment. We will see if that happens.

CNN's Clare Foran and Ted Barrett contributed reporting to this post.

8:20 a.m. ET, March 5, 2021

Key things to know about the Senate Democrats' Covid-19 relief bill

From CNN's Lauren Fox and the Hill Team

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks to the media on Tuesday, March 2, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks to the media on Tuesday, March 2, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Senate Democrats released their version of the Covid relief bill yesterday. It's 628 pages long. While the bill reflects similar priorities to the House bill and includes many of the same provisions, the Senate legislation differs in a few ways.

Here are some key differences:

  • The Senate bill does not include an increase in the $15 minimum wage after the Senate parliamentarian ruled it would not be allowed under the budget rules.
  • The Senate bill also does not include two controversial transportation projects in New York and California. The bill lowers the income thresholds for who is eligible for stimulus checks.
  • Those thresholds now cut off at $80,000 for individuals and $160,000 for couples. Beginning at $75,000 and $150,000, the payments decrease up to that threshold.
  • The Senate’s bill still offers a $400 weekly federal benefit to unemployed workers and provides direct aid to state and local governments. The Senate bill, however, has given more money to lower population states than the House bill.

Many of the changes in the Senate bill reflect weeks worth of conversations between Senate moderates and the White House with those talks intensifying in recent days.

Democratic moderates fought in the final days of these talks to include more money for broadband and for rural hospitals. The legislation also increased the funding for states that were hard hit by losses in revenue from tourism.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer had a difficult task. He had to win over support of all 50 members of his caucus. In order to pass the bill without Republican votes, he cannot lose a single one.

Read the full Senate bill here.