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Democrats focus on passing Covid relief bill after Trump’s acquittal

US Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, speaks during a press conference at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, January 6, 2021.

Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

With former President Donald Trump‘s second impeachment trial behind them, Democrats are moving to pass another coronavirus relief package within weeks.

The Senate on Saturday acquitted Trump of inciting an insurrection against the government after five days of proceedings. Both Democratic-held chambers of Congress and President Joe Biden will now turn their full attention to pushing a $1.9 trillion aid bill through before key unemployment programs expire on March 14.

On Tuesday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told lawmakers to prepare to work through Feb. 26 and into the ensuing weekend in order to pass the relief bill. House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries will hold calls this week with members of committees putting together the legislation, NBC News reported.

House panels have advanced major parts of the bill, which the Budget Committee is set to combine into one mammoth proposal in the coming days. Congress has to go through a more drawn-out process than usual to approve the plan under budget reconciliation, a tool that will enable Democrats to pass it with no Republican votes in the Senate.

Potential pitfalls await Democrats as they try to approve a bill that party leaders say will speed up Covid-19 vaccine distribution and mitigate the economic pain from public health restrictions. They have to comply with rules that limit what lawmakers can include in budget reconciliation plans.

If the party does not win any support from Republicans skeptical of more spending, every Democrat in the Senate will have to get on board for the bill to pass. At least two Democratic senators — Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — have expressed skepticism about parts of the plan.

Biden, who will head to Wisconsin on Tuesday for a CNN town hall event, considers pandemic relief his “top priority,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday.

The aid package as proposed by the House would send payments of up to $1,400 to most Americans, put a $400 per week jobless benefit supplement and an existing unemployment insurance expansion in place through Aug. 29 and send $350 billion to struggling state, local and tribal governments. It would also direct $20 billion into a national vaccination program and send $170 billion to schools and colleges for reopening costs and aid to students, among a range of other provisions.

Republicans have criticized the plan’s nearly $2 trillion price tag and questioned the cost of school funding and direct payments, in particular. A group of GOP senators offered Biden a roughly $600 billion counterproposal, but he has called it too small to address the crisis.

The president has said he would rather pass a larger bill now than potentially get bogged down in weeks or months of talks, only to agree to a smaller proposal.

One particular piece of the House plan could make the process challenging for Democrats. The bill includes a proposal to gradually hike the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025.

It is unclear now if the Senate parliamentarian will allow the measure under reconciliation. Manchin and Sinema have both criticized the minimum wage hike and could sink it even if Senate rules allow it in the final legislation.

If the Senate passes a different bill than the House does, representatives would have to reconvene to approve the legislation again.

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