Latest In Relief Package News

Dear Rich Lifer,

On Thursday night, Senate Democrats advanced a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package after making multiple adjustments related to student loans, infrastructure, and other matters. 

All 50 Senate Democrats voted yes on the bill, and all 50 Republicans voted against, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie in favor of the Democrats. 

Although the bill passed in the House last week, Democrats in the Senate are making a few changes to it, which now must be voted on in a “vote-a-rama” — more on that to come. After each order is voted upon in the Senate, the bill will go back to the House again for final approval before arriving at President Biden’s desk for his signature. 

Democrats are using a legislative process called reconciliation that allows them to approve the legislation with a simple majority in the Senate rather than the 60 votes most bills require. Reconciliation calls for the time-consuming amendment process known as the “vote-a-rama.” 

The voting began Friday, March 5th after a marathon reading of the entire legislation, which began yesterday when Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, demanded that a group of Senate clerks read all 628 pages of the bill on the floor before debate could continue. The 10 hour and 44 minute reading of the bill went until just after 2 a.m. Friday morning. 

20 hours of debate is the norm before the vote-a-rama begins however, due to the almost 11 hours of reading, Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen asked shortly after 2 a.m. for debate to be limited to three hours when the Senate reconvened. There was no objection from Republicans, so the agreement was made, and the Senate gaveled out.

Today, we will break down what has changed in the bill thus far, what exactly is a vote-a-rama, and when we can finally expect this bill to be passed. 

Last Minute Changes  

A few key changes were made to the bill last week.

One such change will narrow the group of Americans who will receive direct payments, something Conservatives have been advocates of for quite some time.  

Individuals who make less than $75,000 and married couples making less than $150,000 will still receive the full $1,400 payment, but the size of the payment will shrink more quickly for people with higher incomes.

You will receive no payment if you make $80,000 as an individual or $160,000 as a couple. As a reminder, the previous payment cap was $100,000 for individuals and $200,000 for couples. 

Another big change came from Senate Democrats just a few minutes ago when they agreed to lower the weekly unemployment benefit from $300, down from $400. However, they will extend these benefits until September 2021, a month longer than the House bill stipulated. 

This agreement also came with a new tax benefit for people who received Unemployment Insurance (UI) by making the first $10,200 in those benefits not taxable. 

Senate Democrats also added a provision that would make much student-loan forgiveness free from income taxes, creating an exception from 2021 through 2025 to the normal rule that canceled debt is income. 

One last hot-topic issue revolves around raising the minimum wage to $15. The Senate parliamentarian had ruled against including the minimum wage increase in the chamber’s Covid relief bill, saying the increase did not meet a strict set of guidelines needed to move forward in the Senate’s reconciliation process. 

In the first vote of the day, Senator Bernie Sanders introduced an amendment to waive the budget point of order and advance the minimum wage effort, but it failed to gain support

Amendment votes are currently ongoing in the “vote-a-rama” which we will now break down for you…

What Is a Vote-A-Rama? 

When using the reconciliation legislative process to pass a bill, you cannot hold a vote on the final bill until all the amendments have been voted on. 

This practice, which has come to be called vote-a-rama, involves voting on a series of amendments and can stretch for hours or days. 

The party in charge typically will want to move the vote-a-rama as quickly as possible with as few votes as possible. The minority party can take this as an opportunity to force votes on all kinds of measures that wouldn’t typically be brought to the floor. 

Usually, the process looks something like this:

  1. A Lawmaker introduces an amendment (sometimes it is just written on a piece of paper).
  2. There is a minute of debate equally divided by each side.
  3. 10 minutes to vote.

Each amendment will take about 15 minutes to vote on. 

How the Vote-A-Rama Will Be Used

Many of the amendments expected on Friday and Saturday are designed to force Democratic lawmakers to go on the record regarding contentious political issues. 

Republicans can then attempt to peel Democratic members off on a few key amendment votes to highlight differences within the Democratic ranks. 

Remember, the Democratic majority is so slim that it cannot afford to lose even one Senator in order for an amendment to pass. 

“We need to get this done. It would be so much better if we could in a bipartisan way, but we need to get it done,” Schumer said in a speech on the Senate floor Friday. “We are going to power through and finish this bill however long it takes. The American people are counting on us and our nation depends on it.”

After all the voting, the final bill will need 51 Democrats for final approval of the legislation as a whole, after which it will go back to the House. 

Will any Republican proposed amendments get support? GOP Senator Mitt Romney is not hopeful stating, “My guess is it’s not likely that many of our amendments will get any Democrat support, so I think it’s very unlikely that any Republicans will support the final bill.”

We anticipate a long, drawn-out voting. Stay tuned for more updates… 

To a Richer Life,

The Rich Life Roadmap Team  


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