The vice president broke the 50:50 tie along party lines in the upper chamber of Congress in her role as president of the Senate.
Republicans claim the bill is not focused enough on relieving the economic burden of Covid-19 and is laden with liberal legislative projects such as the $15 per hour minimum wage
Progressive Democrats believe the bill does not go far enough.
A Morning Consult poll reveals broad bipartisan support amongst the American public, with 77 per cent backing the stimulus plan (71 per cent when it is labelled as a Democrat plan).
Breaking the tie to begin debate on Thursday, Ms Harris announced: “On this vote, the yeas are 50, the nays are 50, the Senate being equally divided, the vice president votes in the affirmative, and the motion to proceed is agreed to.”
Thursday’s vote was the second time Ms Harris has broken a tie — her first was in February when the Senate approved the preliminary guidance for committees in the drafting of the bill.
Republicans are not going to make passage of the bill a simple task though. Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson has forced a reading of the entire 628-page bill in the chamber.
After 40 minutes the clerks had read 24 pages and Mr Johnson was the only senator in the chamber other than Senator Raphael Warnock who is presiding. It could take more than 15 hours to read the entire bill.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer slammed Mr Johnson’s stalling tactics, saying: “We all know this will merely delay the inevitable. It will accomplish little more than a few sore throats for the Senate clerks, who work very hard, day-in, day-out, to help the Senate function. And I want to thank our clerks, profoundly, for the work they do every day, including the arduous task ahead of them.”
There are still 20 hours of debate on the bill to be undertaken, followed by a “vote-a-rama” of almost unlimited amendments, expected to begin on Friday. Republicans are planning to make the process as difficult for Democrats as possible.
There was an earlier delay to the bill while the Congressional Budget Office scored it to see if it meets arcane rules that would allow Democrats to pass it through budget reconciliation — requiring only a simple majority and not the additional votes of 10 Republicans.
Mr Schumer has vowed that the Senate will stay in session this week until the bill is passed.
Once it has been through the rigmarole of amendments in the Senate, the bill must return to the House of Representatives before being sent to the president.