Maine’s U.S. senators took opposing sides as the Senate narrowly approved a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill on Saturday, with Sen. Angus King calling for urgent action and Sen. Susan Collins promoting a scaled-down alternative.

King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, voted in favor of the bill, which was approved in a 50-49 party-line vote. In a statement Saturday, he said COVID-19 had “devastated” America, “testing our nation on every front imaginable.”

U.S. Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins

“The bill the Senate passed today, and the vote I proudly cast in favor, confronts the damage done across the board,” King said. “This legislation will help us save lives and repair the economic damage inflicted by this pandemic. This legislation is expensive — but as we’ve seen over the last year, the cost of inaction is even higher.”

The aid package gives direct payments of up to $1,400 to most Americans, extends emergency unemployment benefits, pays for vaccines and testing, bolsters state and municipal coffers, and supports schools and industries particularly hard-hit by the pandemic. The bill also gives tax breaks to families with children, health insurance customers and low-income Americans.

Collins, a Republican, called the size of the Biden administration-backed plan “wasteful and unnecessary” in explaining her vote against the package in a statement posted on Twitter Saturday afternoon.

Collins criticized Democrats for not embracing an alternative bill she and 10 other Republican senators backed, which was less than a third of the Biden proposal’s size and focused more directly on fighting the virus than on widespread economic relief. Though President Biden met with Collins and other senators in February to discuss a $618 billion alternative plan — later increased to $650 billion — Collins on Saturday said Democrats showed “no interest” in negotiating a smaller package.


“Instead, Democrats chose to ram through a partisan bill using a partisan process,” Collins said. “The only thing bipartisan about this process was the opposition in the House.”

U.S. Rep. Jared Golden of Maine was one of only two Democrats to vote against the bill in the  House of Representatives.

Collins said her bill would have provided “targeted” relief to families, workers and small businesses while funding vaccine manufacturing and distribution, as well as COVID-19 testing. Citing former Obama economic adviser Larry Summers, Collins said anything larger “risks triggering inflation and financial instability” for the United States.

The Democratic-led stimulus plan is nearly a tenth the size of the entire U.S. economy, which was about $21.5 trillion last year. But despite some signs of recovery, with 379,000 jobs added last month, the nation remains 9.5 million jobs below its total before the pandemic.

Collins also defended the Republican-led Senate’s response to the pandemic last year, saying it had passed a total of $4 trillion in aid by “overwhelming” margins. From the last $900 billion package, passed a few months ago, hundreds of billions remain unspent, she said.

King, meanwhile, fought back against claims that the relief bill was overstuffed with provisions unrelated to fighting COVID-19. The legislation not only bolsters the effort to contain the virus, but also addresses “secondary” effects on the economy and on working families, he said. The bill extends the child tax credit to “help lift 10,000 Maine children out of poverty,” he said, and also supports broadband expansion, which is essential to remote work, education and tele-health during the pandemic.

“You may have heard the charge that ‘only 9% of this bill relates to COVID, and the rest is some kind of political wish list.’ This is flat wrong and deliberately misleading,” King said.

Despite their differences over the aid bill, Maine’s senators both voted on Friday against a proposal to include in the relief package a provision to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

The story was updated at 11 a.m. on March 7 to clarify the attribution of one of Sen. Susan Collins’s comments.

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