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Senate Irons Out Details for Latest Covid-19 Package

Senate Democrats are advancing a $1.9 trillion Covid-19 aid package after making a series of adjustments to it. WSJ’s Gerald F. Seib explains what changes senators are making to the bill and what will likely stay the same. Photo illustration: Ang Li

Video Transcript

GERALD F. SEIB: President Biden's big $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief and stimulus plan has now passed the House with no Republican votes, only Democratic votes. And it's reached the Senate. So the question is what happens there? Answer, probably some modest changes in the bill, but not big changes, And again, most likely passage with only Democratic votes. Not clear any Republican senators will support this bill in final passage.

Now, Republicans will try to make some big changes through amendments on the Senate floor to cut back the bill's scope and its expense. They maintain this is much too big and costly a package. But those amendments are not going to have Democratic support. They'll mostly die on the Senate floor.

So the changes that will happen are changes that have been pushed by moderate Senate Democrats to slightly scale back some of the bill's provisions. Perhaps most important, Democrats have agreed to scale back slightly the scope of those stimulus checks the government would send out to most workers and families under provisions of this bill. The version that passed the House provided that the government would send $1,400 stimulus checks to an individual making $75,000 or less, and to a couple making $150,000 or less. And those stimulus payments would phase out as the income of the recipient went up and reached 0 for an individual making $100,000, or a couple making $200,000.

Now, some moderate Democrats wanted to scale back that slightly. So now, under the version the Senate will pass, it's most likely that the benefits will scale down to 0 for an individual making $80,000 or a couple making $160,000, thereby reducing the cost of the package a little bit. Some Senate Democrats also want to scale back the provision for supplemental federal unemployment benefits, which under the House plan are $400 a week and run through August of this year. Some moderate Democrats wanted to cut that back to $300 a week. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, for example, and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire had advocated for that. Senator Shaheen said in particular, that she worried that at $400 a week of supplemental unemployment benefits, some workers would make more money by staying off of work than by getting jobs, thereby making it harder for employers in her state to find workers. But liberals pushed back on that, and it appears that $400 level will hold.

Now, Democrats had already made the biggest change in this legislation before it reached the Senate floor when they agreed to take out a provision that would have raised the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. There may be some other tweaks on the Senate floor on, for example, the provisions that give money to states. But by and large, this is going to emerge from the Senate as a bill that is a big one and not much changed in the end.