An exhausted US Senate has narrowly approved a $US1.9 trillion ($2.47 trillion) COVID-19 relief bill as President Joe Biden and his Democrats notched a victory they called crucial for lifting the country out of the pandemic and economic doldrums.
After labouring through the night on a mountain of amendments – nearly all from Republicans and rejected – bleary-eyed senators approved the sprawling package on a 50-49 party-line vote on Saturday (local time).
It sets up final approval by the House next week so lawmakers can send it to Mr Biden for his signature.
“We tell the American people, help is on the way,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
“Our job right now is to help our country get from this stormy present to that hopeful future.”
The huge package, with a total spending that is nearly one-tenth the size of the entire US economy, is Biden’s biggest early priority.
It stands as his formula for addressing the deadly virus and a limping economy, twin crises that have afflicted the US for a year.
Saturday’s vote was also a crucial political moment for Mr Biden and the Democrats, who need nothing short of party unanimity in a 50-50 Senate they run because of Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote.
They also have a a slim 10-vote edge in the House. On Saturday, Senator Dan Sullivan was absent for the vote.
A small but pivotal band of moderate Democrats leveraged changes in the bill that incensed progressives, not making it any easier for Speaker Nancy Pelosi to guide the measure through the House.
The bill provides direct payments of up to $US1400 ($1821) for most Americans and extended emergency unemployment benefits.
It also includes vast spending for COVID-19 vaccines and testing, states and cities, schools and ailing industries, along with tax breaks to help lower earners people, families with children and consumers buying health insurance.
The package faced solid opposition from Republicans, who call the package a wasteful spending spree that ignores recent indications that the pandemic and the economy could be turning the corner.
“The Senate has never spent $2 trillion in a more haphazard way,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Of the Democrats, he said: “Their top priority wasn’t pandemic relief. It was their Washington wish list.”
The Senate commenced a dreaded “vote-a-thon” – a continuous series of votes on amendments – shortly before midnight on Friday, and by the end had dispensed with about three dozen.
The Senate had been in session since Friday morning.
Overnight, the chamber was like an experiment in the best techniques for staying awake. Several lawmakers appeared to rest their eyes or doze at their desks, often burying their faces in their hands.
The package follows five earlier ones totalling about $US4 trillion ($5.2 trillion) that Congress has enacted in the past year and comes amid signs of a potential turnaround.