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Senate moves forward with ‘vote-a-rama’ stimulus bill after nearly 12-hour stalemate


Washington – The “vote-a-rama” for President Biden $ 1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, a grueling Senate process of voting on a series of amendments, resumed shortly before midnight on Friday after a nearly 12-hour standoff in the Democratic caucus over an unemployment insurance benefit.

Senate Democrats reached a deal agreed to by Sen. Joe Manchin, the only Democratic opponent, on Friday night after Manchin had a lengthy meeting with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. The compromise amendment extends additional UI benefits until September 6 to $ 300 per week. It also makes the first $ 10,200 of unemployment insurance benefits tax-free for households with incomes below $ 150,000 and extends the tax rules regarding limits on excess business losses until 2026.

The amendment was approved by 50 votes to 49 shortly after 1 a.m. It’s almost identical to an amendment proposed as part of a deal reached Friday morning by progressives and moderates, with the only change being the income cap for non-taxable benefits.

Manchin, a moderate Democrat from West Virginia, assumed a powerful role in the caucus because he is one of the deciding votes in an equally divided Senate. Democrats have 50 seats, which means there is no room for dissent in the ranks: losing the support of a single senator means losing the overall vote. Earlier today, Manchin appeared to lean in favor of an amendment introduced by GOP Senator Rob Portman that would have reduced UI benefits from $ 400 to $ 300 and only extended them until in June.

The “vote-a-rama” resumed shortly before midnight with a vote on Portman’s amendment, which was passed 50 to 49, with Manchin’s backing. However, this amendment will be replaced by the Democratic Amendment, which Manchin also supported, and will be included in the final bill.

The “vote-a-rama” began Friday morning with a failed vote on an amendment proposed by Senator Bernie Sanders that would have raised the federal minimum wage. But the vote remained open even after all senators voted, preventing the next amendment from being considered, as Democrats rushed behind the scenes to convince Manchin to support their amendment.

Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, who had supported the increase in the benefit to $ 600 and its extension until October, told reporters on Friday night that “it is the best that can be done for people who are in pain. at the moment”.

“This is the longest extension of benefits possible tonight,” Wyden said, also acknowledging that “that’s not all I would have written.”

After nearly 12 hours, the vote on Sanders’ amendment closed shortly before 11 p.m., the longest vote in modern Senate history. A motion to adjourn until Saturday morning put forward by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell narrowly failed, with Democrats seeking to pass the “vote-a-rama” and a final vote in one evening.

“Now that this deal has been done, we are going to get the rest of the process going and bring this bill to fruition. Make no mistake about it, we will continue to work until the job is done,” he said. Schumer in a speech on the Senate floor after the vote on Sanders’ amendment closed. The hesitation around changing UI did not bode well for Schumer, the new majority leader, as the “vote-a-rama” is seen as a test of his ability to keep his caucus online.

The Senate is expected to vote on dozens of amendments during the “vote-a-rama” on Saturday morning. The amendments require the support of a simple majority to be added to the bill, and most amendments proposed by Republicans are expected to fail. GOP Senator Dan Sullivan left the Senate due to a family emergency, meaning most amendments will pass or fail by a 50-49 margin, so Vice President Kamala Harris will not be not have to break ties.

The Senate met Friday morning with two hours of debate, followed by a vote on Sanders’ amendment, which would have raised the unspecified minimum wage to $ 15 an hour by 2025 and the minimum wage rocked at $ 14.75 over seven years. Parliamentarian of the Senate ruled last week that the Senate could not include a provision raising the minimum wage to $ 15 under the reconciliation rules, so GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham raised a point of order challenging the amendment.

Manchin, along with Democratic Senators Jon Tester, Jeanne Shaheen, Kyrsten Sinema, Chris Coons, Tom Carper and Maggie Hassan, joined Republicans in voting against the inclusion of this provision. Senator Angus King, an independent who teams up with Democrats, also voted against adding the minimum wage hike to the bill. Manchin and Sinema in particular had previously expressed their opposition to raising the minimum wage to $ 15.

Congress uses the budget reconciliation process to pass the bill, which limits debate time and allows the legislation to pass by simple majority, a workaround that avoids the 60-vote threshold that most bills require to advance to the Senate. If every Democrat supports the final bill, it would pass without any Republican support.

But Republicans are critical of the size of the bill and are frustrated that Democrats are using the reconciliation process, saying they are taking a partisan path rather than working across the aisle. Democrats respond that they don’t need to waste time negotiating with Republicans to hit the 60-vote threshold and pass a smaller package.

In retaliation, Republican senators aim to make the amendment process politically painful for Democrats. One of those votes could be on an amendment to prevent undocumented immigrants from receiving stimulus checks. During the “vote-a-rama” last month on the budget resolution to set up the reconciliation process, eight Democrats joined all Republicans in voting for the amendment, infuriating progressives.

It is not known how long the “vote-a-rama” will last.

“At some point people are going to say, ‘I’m tired and I’m getting out of here,’ which is pretty powerful when you talk about a 50-50 Senate,” Republican Senator John Cornyn told reporters when ‘we asked him. what would be the schedule of the “vote-a-rama”.

Economic aid legislation is widely popular, and a recent poll shows that a majority of Americans support it, especially the provision that says $ 1,400 in direct checks to employees earning less than $ 75,000. Senate Democrats have reached a deal to limit eligibility for who receives direct checks earlier this week.

The House passed a version of the bill last week, but the final bill passed in the Senate will be slightly different. Some recently added measures, according to a Democratic Senate aide, include $ 510 million for FEMA and $ 750 million for states and communities affected by the loss of jobs and income in the tourism, travel and outdoor recreation. Another provision provides funding for education, including $ 1.25 billion for evidence-based summer enrichment, $ 1.25 billion for after-school programs and $ 3 billion for educational technology. . It would also make COVID-19 student loan relief tax-exempt.

A vote on the motion to proceed with debate on the bill resulted in a party line vote Thursday afternoon, with Harris breaking the tie 50-50. Although budget reconciliation rules allow up to 20 hours of debate before the ‘vote-a-rama’, Republicans and Democrats only used two, after GOP Senator Ron Johnson forced the clerk of the Senate to read the entire bill aloud Thursday evening. The process took almost 11 hours and ended early Friday morning. The Senate agreed to meet later Friday morning for up to three hours of debate, but the time saved by limiting debate time was quickly wasted with the nearly 12-hour delay on the insurance change- unemployment.

Jack Turman contributed reporting.

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