US Senate pushes aid to small states on coronavirus relief bill By Reuters

Israel-UAE deal 'brave and much needed': US presidential candidate Biden

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The US Capitol Building is reflected against an ambulance along the Eastern Front on Capitol Hill in Washington.

By David Morgan and Richard Cowan WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrats in the U.S. Senate said Thursday they had modified President Joe Biden‘s $ 1.9 trillion coronavirus aid package to direct more aid to states. smallest in the United States as lawmakers prepared to launch a lengthy debate on the bill. With no votes to spare, Democrats are modifying the bill to make sure all 50 members support it. On Thursday, they said they had increased the minimum amount of aid each state would receive, a move likely to please those representing sparsely populated states like Vermont. The Democratic-controlled Senate met at noon and was expected to vote on a motion to launch 20 hours of debate on the massive bill. The Republican response to the motion could provide an early indication of how united they are in opposition to the package. Republicans are expected to prolong the process as long as possible by demanding a full reading of the broad legislation that could take up to 10 hours Thursday. This would be followed by 20 hours of debate and a long series of votes that could last well into the weekend. “No matter how long it takes, the Senate will stay in session to finish the bill,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer told the Senate floor. Security was tight on the US Capitol, the scene of a deadly assault in January, after police warned that a group of militias might attempt to attack. But there were no signs of protesters around the compound Thursday morning. The relief bill, Biden’s top legislative priority, includes funding for vaccines and medical supplies, extends unemployment assistance, and provides a new round of emergency financial aid to households, small businesses, and state and local governments. Opinion polls indicate broad public support. Senate Democrats on Wednesday toughened the criteria for stimulus controls to rate fewer high-income households. The compromise means 9 million fewer households will receive a stimulus payment than in the last tranche of payments in 2020. It also reduces the cost of the legislation by $ 12 billion, according to Senate Democrats. On Thursday, they said they had increased minimum payments to states with smaller rural populations to match the $ 1.25 billion minimum contained in last year’s CARES Act. The bill passed by the House set the floor at $ 500 million. “Small states will secure at least as much as they did in the CARES Act,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden told reporters. The bill was also changed to ensure that small towns get a portion of that aid, according to independent senator Angus King. Democrats were still negotiating other issues, such as the amount of unemployment assistance, according to Democratic Senator Joe Manchin. DELAY TACTIC Senate Minority Leader McConnell said the package contains too many provisions that would not go directly to fighting a pandemic that has killed nearly 520,000 Americans and left millions more out of work. “The Washington Democrats are trying to exploit the last chapters of this crisis to pass the most progressive national legislation in a generation,” he said. Democrats hope Biden can sign it into law before March 14, when some of the current benefits run out. In the Senate, bills generally require the support of 60 senators. But the coronavirus relief bill is moving forward under a legislative maneuver known as reconciliation that allows its passage with a simple majority vote. The 48 Democratic senators and the two independents who are part of them control 50 seats, exactly half of the 100-seat chamber, but Vice President Kamala Harris, a Democrat, can cast votes to break ties.