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Image: Democrats Hold Press Conferences Pushing Back On Amy Coney Barrett's Confirmation Process
Democratic members of Senate Judiciary Committee, led by Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer, exit the Capitol for a news conference on Oct. 22, 2020.Alex Wong / Getty Images

A progressive breakthrough: historic COVID relief package advances

It wasn't easy, and there wasn't a vote to spare, but a relief package that will help define the era is poised to become the law of the land.


On Nov. 6, many Democrats were in a dour mood. The 2020 presidential race had not yet been called; the party's majority in the U.S. House was poised to shrink dramatically; and the odds of taking back control of the U.S. Senate seemed remote. Even if Joe Biden hung on and took office, the conventional wisdom held, it was highly unlikely that he'd be able to score any major legislative victories.

On March 6, those Democrats who feared a bleak future suddenly had reason to celebrate a legislative breakthrough of historic significance.

The Senate passed a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package Saturday, capping off a marathon overnight session after Democrats resolved internal clashes that threatened to derail President Joe Biden's top legislative priority.... The final vote was 50-49 along party lines, with every Republican voting "no." It came after Democrats voted down a swath of Republican amendments on repeated votes of 50-49 to avoid disrupting the delicate agreement between progressive and moderate senators.

Because the Senate made some modest changes to the legislation, the American Rescue Plan now heads back to the Democratic-led House for final approval. That isn't expected to be a problem: party leaders have announced plans to pass the bill as early as tomorrow. The president is expected to sign it into law soon after.

There was a fair amount of discussion last week about more conservative Democrats scaling back the scope of the COVID relief package, and for good reason: the demise of the minimum-wage provision, for example, will have a real-world impact on many American families.

But as notable as those changes were, the fact remains that this legislation is a progressive breakthrough of historic importance. We are, after all, talking about a $1.9 trillion package -- a number Biden first proposed before his inauguration, when many observers assumed it was an unrealistic opening bid that would inevitably be reduced through negotiations.

It wasn't. The Democratic White House ended up getting about 99% of what it asked for, thanks largely to two united Democratic conferences whose leaders managed to keep them together.

The result is an expansive relief package that will do an enormous amount of good for an enormous number of people. The top-line elements are as impressive as they are consequential: $1,400 direct-aid checks, enhanced unemployment benefits, funds for vaccine distribution, a generous child allowance, Affordable Care Act expansion, and $350 billion in aid to state, municipal, and tribal governments.

But we can keep going. There's money for school infrastructure. And struggling domestic industries. And student-loan relief. And while the bill couldn't include an evictions moratorium -- it wasn't permitted under the budget reconciliation rules -- the American Rescue Plan does include tens of billions of dollars for rental assistance.

It is no exaggeration to say Americans haven't seen a bill this ambitious and this progressive in generations.

Looking back at the political landscape from four months ago, none of this seemed realistic. Everything would have to fall into place, just so, for such a sweeping relief package to even be a possibility.

But everything did fall into place. It wasn't easy, and there wasn't a vote to spare, but a bill that will help define the era is poised to become the law of the land.