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Covid: Senate Democrats reach deal to move forward after hours of stalemate

Democratic leaders finally won Manchin’s backing on a last-minute deal to pave the way for legislation after Biden himself intervened.

But Senate activity first came to a halt for hours amid a freeze on unemployment benefits, with Manchin being pulled in two directions – by Republicans who tried to convince him on a proposal they had. developed and by the White House. The dispute was a sign of the centrist Democrat’s power in the 50-50 Senate, where Democrats control the narrowest majority possible, and an example of how a single senator can derail the president’s agenda.

After an eight-hour blockade, Democrats struck a deal they said paves the way for the plan to pass.

The day began after the Democrats and the White House came to their own last-minute deal.

Democrats struck a deal Friday morning to avoid a competing amendment from Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, whose plan to extend weekly unemployment benefits by $ 300 might have garnered enough votes to amend the underlying Covid relief bill. So the Democrats decided to cut their own unemployment benefits, from $ 400 in the current bill to $ 300 per week – and sweeten the pot, allowing people to deduct the first $ 10,200 from their taxes.

Yet the sweetener only soured Manchin, who had not signed the deal before it was announced, prompting a frantic rush behind the scenes for his support after he hesitated on the proposal.

On Friday night, a Democratic aide told CNN that Senate Democrats now plan to propose an amendment to extend the enhanced UI program until September 6 at a rate of $ 300 per week under an agreement accepted by Manchin.

Aide said the deal will make the first $ 10,200 tax-free and now includes a provision the West Virginia Democrat secured to ensure the benefit only applies to households earning less than 150,000. dollars.

In the end, Manchin also got a deal in which unemployment benefits will expire about a month sooner than they would have under the deal cut on Friday morning. Under this agreement, the benefits would have been extended until September.

Manchin released a statement on the deal on Friday evening, saying: “We have reached a compromise that allows the economy to rebound quickly while protecting unemployment benefit recipients from being hit by unexpected tax bills. next year.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement Friday night that Biden “supports the compromise agreement and is grateful to all the senators who have worked so hard to achieve this result.”

And after?

The Senate had prepared for a series of politically difficult amendment votes that would spread out late into the night on Friday and Saturday, the last major hurdle senators face before voting on Biden’s legislative priority.

The long series of amendment votes, known as the vote-a-rama, is a Senate tradition that the minority party uses to register majority members on controversial issues in an attempt to make changes to a bill they oppose.

But Democratic negotiations over unemployment benefits have delayed this series of marathon votes. They had kept an earlier Friday morning minimum wage vote open while they negotiated a deal on the other issue.

The measure to raise the minimum wage to $ 15 an hour, introduced by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, was a first test of party unity.

Eight Democratic Conference Senators – Jon Tester of Montana, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Manchin, Angus King of Maine, Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, and Chris Coons and Tom Carper of Delaware – opposed the minimum wage amendment, with every Republican senator.

The measure is on track to fail 42-58, although at nearly 10 p.m. ET the vote was still open.

Once they close the hammer on the minimum wage vote, which has been open since about 11 a.m. ET, the Senate will move to a vote-a-rama, meaning Senators can move as many amendments as they want. they want it.

South Dakota Senate Minority Whip John Thune, Senate Republican No.2, told reporters the long delay only pissed off Senate Republicans and encouraged them to get votes on their amendments during the vote-a-rama.

Votes follow reading overnight

The Senate’s marathon effort to pass the $ 1.9 trillion bill kicked into high gear Thursday when Senators voted to open debate and, in a sign of Democrats’ slim majority, Harris broke the tie moving the bill forward. But Republicans opposed to the legislation have taken steps to stretch the process, starting by forcing the 628-page bill to be read aloud.

Under the protocols surrounding the bill, the Senate had until 8 p.m. for debate, followed by the vote-a-rama. However, following the conclusion of the reading of the bill at around 2 a.m. ET on Friday, Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland rose to ask for a unanimous agreement for the Senate to return at 9 a.m. ET and when they did so, only three hours of debate had before moving to the vote-a-rama. Since no Republican rose in the chamber and objected, the motion was accepted, cutting an additional 17 hours of debate time.

Covid: Senate Democrats reach deal to move forward after hours of stalemate

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, criticized Republican tactics to slow down the process Thursday, saying that forcing the bill to read through “will only delay the inevitable” and swearing that ” however long it takes, the Senate will remain in session to complete the bill this week. ”

Schumer thanked Senate staff on Friday for the nearly 11-hour reading of the bill, calling them “unsung heroes of this place.”

“As for our friend from Wisconsin, I hope he enjoyed his Thursday night,” said Schumer, referring to GOP Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin who forced read aloud and was not in the Senate when it ended early Friday morning.

When asked how long this could last, Thune replied: “It’s undefined. You have a lot of people who want to propose a lot of amendments.”

“On the bright side, it’s a chance to vote on some things you wouldn’t be able to vote on in the ordinary course of business,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told reporters when asked him to summarize the vote. -drama process for those unfamiliar with. “It’s a chance to see how the parties approach a particular issue, the right thing. The other side of the story is, it’s kinda silly.”

“I think we have some very good amendments on the Questions of the Day,” Graham said. “I’m just focusing on how best to do things differently, what we would do with your money as the American people, and what we think Covid relief should consist of.”

Given the changes the Senate has made to the bill, it will need to return to the House of Representatives for another vote next week before it can travel to Biden’s office to be enacted.

This story and title was updated with additional developments on Friday.

CNN’s Ali Zaslav, Annie Grayer and Lauren Fox contributed to this report.


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