Senate delays debate on Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 bill while it is read aloud

Senate delays debate on Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 bill while it is read aloud
  • Clock-gray 05:01
  • calendar-gray 05 March 2021

The U.S. Senate voted on Thursday to take up President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus aid bill, but put off the start of a contentious debate until the full text of the 628-page bill is read aloud.

The party-line vote of 51-50, with Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie, illustrated that Democrats who narrowly control the chamber can expect little, if any, Republican support.

A vote on final passage could come over the weekend. Republicans, who are expected to use procedural tricks to drag out the process, began by forcing Senate clerks to read the entire bill - a process expected to take up to 10 hours.

Republican Senator Ron Johnson, who had demanded the reading, was the sole member present in the chamber through most of the evening except for a rotating series of Democrats who served as the body's presiding officer.

With no votes to spare, Democrats tweaked the bill to ensure all 50 of their members would support it. They said they would steer more aid to smaller U.S. states and add money for infrastructure projects, among other changes.

But efforts by some senators to alter temporary federal unemployment benefits failed. The Senate bill keeps the House of Representatives' plan for $400 per-week payments through Aug. 29. It was unclear whether any senators would try to change that, possibly to $300, during the lengthy amendment process in coming days.

"The time is now to move forward with big, bold, strong relief for the American people," Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said.

Security was tight at the U.S. Capitol, the scene of a deadly assault in January by followers of then-President Donald Trump, a Republican. Police warned that a militia group might try to attack on Thursday, but there were few protesters around the complex.

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