Senate Passes Milestone Coronavirus Relief Package. What Happens Next?
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
President Biden's top legislative priority is now just one step away from heading to his desk. This afternoon, after a debate lasting more than 24 hours, the Senate passed the $1.9 trillion American recovery plan on a party-line vote. The measure includes economic relief, billions of dollars to distribute vaccines and aid for schools trying to reopen safely. Here's Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
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CHUCK SCHUMER: We will end this terrible plague, and we will travel again and send our kids to school again and be together again. Our job right now is to help our country get from this stormy present to that hopeful future.
MARTIN: NPR's Scott Detrow is with us now from the White House to talk about this milestone vote and what comes next.
Scott, welcome. Thanks for joining us.
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Good afternoon, Michel.
MARTIN: So Democrats control the Senate, but only because Vice President Harris can break ties. Passage of this legislation was not a sure thing, I take it.
DETROW: It was not. Democrats had felt pretty confident, but in a 50-50 Senate on a party-line vote like this, one person can derail a bill. And that led to several hours of tension yesterday when West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin balked at how much longer to extend the additional unemployment compensation this bill includes. He was talking to Republicans about backing an amendment that would have shortened it. In the end, to keep Manchin's vote, Democrats scaled back those additional payments of $300 per check through the beginning of September rather than the end of the month. So it's about a month less of those extended benefits.
The Senate version of this bill also does not include a $15 minimum wage, and that is a change that really upset a lot of progressive Democrats. Democrats do have a majority in the House that's a little bigger than the Senate, but only a little bit of wiggle room. So it was interesting today that you had people like Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders trying to bolster this, trying to win over those progressives who might be frustrated. Sanders was saying, this is a wildly progressive bill.
And that is something that President Biden cited when I asked him today at the White House what his message is to progressives in the House. He said that he didn't think any of the tweaks that happened in the Senate measure fundamentally changed the essence of this bill.
MARTIN: No Republican voted for the bill today, as we just said, just like no Republican voted for it when it first passed the House. Why not?
DETROW: I think there's a couple of things going on. First and foremost, it's a political calculation, right? The party has a lot of disagreement right now. They're trying to unify against something that Biden has repeatedly said it's his top priority. Republicans focused a lot on the size of this measure, $1.9 trillion. They're saying it's way too expensive, especially with some signs that as the pandemic starts to fade, the economy is bouncing back strong.
Of course, there are still a lot of troubling signs, many people still out of work. And Republicans largely backed all of last year's massive spending plans. As you heard Biden say again today, he's confident this is a popular measure. A recent poll from the Associated Press gives Biden 70% approval on how he is handling the pandemic. So Democrats feel like even though they didn't get any Republican support, there's more support out there in the country for this.
MARTIN: Is President Biden saying anything else about the vote?
DETROW: In addition to what we have been hearing from Biden for months - that this is a way to get a lot of assistance to a lot of people and help fight the economic and public health aspects of this at the same time - he also said today, this is a big step in one of his main goals - getting back to focusing on governing the country, not sideshows.
PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: When I was elected, I said we're going to get the government out of the business of battling on Twitter and back in the business of delivering for the American people.
DETROW: Biden was also asked about this fact that, you know, every single Republican voted against this measure. And he remained optimistic that he is going to get Republican support on future major efforts. There's a big infrastructure bill that's probably coming next. Biden did say he thought he was close to getting a few Republicans to vote for this one, but he noted that, of course, they were under tremendous pressure from their own party to vote no, which they did.
MARTIN: That is NPR White House correspondent Scott Detrow joining us from the White House.
Scott, thank you so much.
DETROW: Sure thing.
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