Applause broke out in the Senate on Saturday afternoon as senators voted 50-49 to pass President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid relief package.
No Republican senators voted for the sweeping package, which provides direct payments to the majority of Americans and funding for states to distribute Covid-19 vaccines.
But Democrats remained unified in their support for the bill after the White House brokered a deal with centrists like Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) that made relief payments and further economic aid more targeted than previous plans passed under former president Donald Trump.
Still, the mood was upbeat on Saturday as lawmakers cheered the passage of the latest relief package following hours of debate and a Senate vote-a-rama that lasted through the night.
The senators applauded after Senator Leahy (D—VT) announced the passage of the bill. Many Democrats were standing and cheering together on the Senate floor as it became clear they had enough votes to pass the legislation.
Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (D—NY) said Mr Biden called him after the bill passed and said: “I knew we’d get this done.”
Praising the efforts of his Democratic colleagues, the senator said: “Unity, unity, unity. That’s how we passed this bill.”
Celebrating the passage of the bill on Saturday, Mr Biden said even the most progressive senators were heralding the American Rescue Plan: “Bernie Sanders said this is the most progressive bill he’s ever seen passed in history, since he’s been there, and the compromises were all compromises that didn’t affect the substance and the essence of what the bill is.
“When we took office 45 days ago, I promised the American people help was on the way. Today I can say we’ve taken one more giant step forward on delivering on that promise — that help is on the way,” he said. “It obviously wasn’t easy. It wasn’t always pretty. But it was so desperately needed, urgently needed.”
The president also told reporters he was happy with the final package and did not feel that it steered too far from his original vision for the massive legislation.
“The end result is essentially about the same,” he told reporters, “and so I don’t think any of the compromises have in any way fundamentally altered the essence of what I put in the bill in the first place”.
The bill, entitled the American Rescue Plan, features $25bn of funding to help small restaurants to reopen, along with $13bn in nutrition programs.
The legislation also extends a massive $350bn in direct support for state and local governments, which have seen depleting budgets amid the pandemic.
Unemployment benefits and other financial assistance for those impacted by the Covid-19 crisis were also featured in the bill, which Mr Schumer said he expected the president to sign by the deadline of 14 March.