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US Senate clears way for Democrats to pass big Covid relief bill

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US President Joe Biden hosts a meeting alongside US Vice President Kamala Harris (L), with Senate Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (R), as they meet about a Covid relief bill in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, February 3, 2021. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP)

The US Senate passed a budget resolution early Friday that will allow Democrats to pass President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package without Republican support.

Vice President Kamala Harris cast the tie-breaking vote to make it 51-50 in the early morning showdown, concluding a process known as a “vote-a-rama” in which senators addressed dozens of amendments to the resolution.

Some drew support from both parties, such as an amendment seeking to bar high-income Americans from receiving $1,400 Covid-19 relief checks.

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The vote was a procedural one that did not approve Biden’s first big legislative initiative itself.

Rather, it set the stage for Democrats to be able to pass it on a party-line vote, without the risk of a filibuster by Republicans, many of whom oppose Biden’s bill because they say it is too expensive.

The House already passed a budget resolution earlier this week but it will have to be reconciled with the Senate version.

Biden has reached out to Republicans on the Covid package but warned that he is willing to act without them, saying the government must act with urgency as the pandemic continues to strangle the economy and has caused a death toll of more than 450,000.

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After the vote, Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer said, “this was a giant first step, a step in concord.”

But Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, argued that most of the money from the last relief bill passed by Congress in December has not even been disbursed yet.

“This reconciliation process is designed not to encourage bipartisanship, not to encourage negotiation, not to get bipartisan buy-in,” Cornyn said.

“What do our Democratic colleagues want to do? They want to continue to shovel money out the door.”

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