Democrats kicked off Senate 'vote-a-rama' as they barrel ahead to approve Biden's $1.9 trillion stimulus package without GOP votes


Senate Democrats kicked off a rowdy "vote-a-rama" on Thursday afternoon, barreling ahead with efforts to secure the eventual passage of President Joe Biden's rescue package

Lawmakers plunged into the frenetic procedure and voted on over a dozen amendments into the early morning hours of Friday, though they are nonbinding. Nearly 900 amendments were drafted for the budget resolution under debate, and many were politically symbolic measures aimed at highlighting priorities in both parties.

Ratifying the budget resolution would unlock a mechanism for Democrats to pass Biden's relief plan through a simple majority of 51 votes instead of the 60 typically required. The House passed an identical budget bill on Wednesday. Once it clears the Senate, both chambers would start writing legislation for the Biden stimulus proposal.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the chair of the Senate Budget Committee, urged lawmakers to "finish the job" and swiftly pass economic relief during a period of financial distress for many middle-class families.

Democrats put no amendments forward as they sought to speed up the process. Two minutes of debate were allowed for each one, the votes stretched for many hours. The vote-a-rama ended up crawling along with senators voting on a dozen amendments in six hours.

"I have a feeling it will be a very long night, but we'll get out of here at some point," Sanders said in a floor speech before the vote-a-rama. 

It's part of the reconciliation process Democrats are undertaking to pass Biden's $1.9 trillion emergency spending package in a party-line vote. 

Republicans are staunchly opposed to the relief package, criticizing its hefty price tag and specific measures attached to it such as a $15 minimum wage.

Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, the ranking Republican on the Budget Committee, said that Democrats had set up a procedure to "deal us all out on our side" and enact a plan that "misses the mark."

The GOP warned Democrats in recent days they would file a barrage of amendments ahead of the vote-a-rama. "Senate Republicans will be ready and waiting with a host of amendments to improve the rushed procedural step that's being jammed through," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday.

Republicans used it as a chance to ratchet up political pressure on Democrats by forcing them to vote on some contentious wedge issues.

Some amendments the Senate took up:

  • An amendment from Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi) to provide grants to food and drinking establishments passed in a vote of 90-10.
  • An amendment from GOP Sen. Todd Young (R-Indiana) to bar undocumented immigrants from receiving a stimulus check passed in a 58-42 vote.
  • An amendment from Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) to prevent "upper-income taxpayers" from getting a direct payment was approved in a vote of 99-1.
  • An amendment from Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pennsylvania) to assure state and local authorities cooperate with federal law enforcement failed in a party-line vote of 50-50.
  • An amendment from Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Kansas) to prevent Democrats from implementing a $15 minimum wage during the pandemic passed unanimously in a voice vote that Sanders engineered since neither party supported a rapid wage hike. 

None of the measures that the Senate authorized were made into law. The committees crafting the Biden rescue package into legislation are not obligated to incorporate any of the approved amendments into the final bill.

Despite their efforts in Congress, Democrats are engaged in a two-pronged approach with the White House still courting Republicans. The Biden administration recently met with a group of 10 Senate Republicans who made a $618 billion stimulus counteroffer. But Democrats roundly rejected it as inadequate.

The working group, led by Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, said in a letter to the White House on Thursday that "we remain committed to working in a bipartisan fashion and hope that you will take into account our views as the legislative process moves forward."

They requested additional documents from the administration to justify their proposed amount of spending.