WASHINGTON — The $1.9 trillion economic stimulus plan approved by the Senate on Saturday follows the outlines of the sweeping pandemic aid package that President Joe Biden proposed, but senators made a series of notable changes that narrowed the bill.
While the House passed a version of the bill that largely kept Biden’s proposals intact, the Senate omitted an increase in the minimum wage that he had included, pared back eligibility for the next round of stimulus checks and limited how much Americans will receive in supplemental unemployment benefits in the coming months.
The changes made by the Senate are likely to stick, as the version passed by the chamber is scheduled to go before the House for its final approval Tuesday. The bill would then head to Biden for his signature.
Here are some of the major differences between the two chambers’ bills.
The minimum wage increase was dropped.
The House bill would gradually raise the federal minimum wage, which is currently $7.25 per hour, to $15 per hour by 2025. The Senate bill does not incorporate a wage increase.
The Senate parliamentarian said last month that the wage increase violated the strict rules governing what can be included in bills passed through a special process known as budget reconciliation — prompting Democrats to jettison it from the package.
Democrats used the reconciliation process because it allowed the bill to pass the Senate with only a simple majority, protecting it from a filibuster — which requires 60 votes to break — and thus eliminating the need to win support from Republicans.
On Friday, an amendment to add back the minimum-wage increase fell well short of the 60 votes needed to do so, failing 42-58 in a procedural vote. Seven Democrats and one independent who caucuses with them joined all 50 Republicans in opposition, signaling that the wage increase lacked sufficient support to clear the Senate regardless of the parliamentarian’s ruling.
Stimulus checks will be available to fewer Americans.
Both the House and Senate bills would provide another round of direct payments to Americans, with payments of up to $1,400 going to hundreds of millions of people. But the Senate bill places stricter income limits on who is eligible, disqualifying millions of people from receiving a payment.
Both bills would provide $1,400 payments for individuals earning up to $75,000, single parents earning up to $112,500 and married couples with incomes up to $150,000. Gradually smaller payments would go to those earning more, declining as income levels rise and phasing out altogether for those above a certain income cap.
But while the House set the cap at $100,000 for individuals, $150,000 for single parents and $200,000 for couples, the Senate lowered them to placate moderates who wanted the payments to be more targeted.
Instead, the Senate bill would set the cap at $80,000 for individuals, $120,000 for single parents and $160,000 for couples, meaning those earning more than that would not receive checks.
Unemployment payments would remain at $300 per week instead of increasing to $400.
The last stimulus package passed in December partly restored a federal unemployment payment that lapsed last summer, offering $300 per week and extending it through March 14. The House bill increased the benefit in line with Biden’s proposal, but the Senate, where moderates balked at raising the payment, left it the same.
The House version would provide a more generous benefit of $400 per week through Aug. 29. The Senate measure would provide $300 per week through Sept. 6.
The Senate bill would also exempt $10,200 in unemployment benefits received in 2020 from federal income taxes for households making less than $150,000.
Both the House and Senate also sought to help workers who lost their jobs keep their employer-provided health insurance coverage, but the Senate bill is more generous. The House measure would cover 85% of premiums through a program called COBRA through September, while the Senate measure would cover the full cost of those premiums.
A rail project, student loan debt and more.
The two bills differ in a variety of other areas. The Senate added a provision that would exempt student loan forgiveness from income taxes through 2025, a step that comes amid pressure on Biden to cancel student loan debt through executive action.
Funding for a rail project in Silicon Valley in Northern California, which was criticized by Republicans, was included in the House bill but dropped from the Senate measure after the parliamentarian ruled against it.
Another transportation-related allotment in the House bill that drew criticism from Republicans, $1.5 million for the Seaway International Bridge between upstate New York and Canada, was dropped from the Senate version as well.