Senators had voted on a separate amendment related to minimum wage when that vote was held open as Democrats began negotiating behind closed doors on unemployment insurance issues and an upcoming amendment vote on that.
Both Democrats and Republicans are expected to put forth amendments regarding unemployment, which has become a contentious issue for moderates like Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., on both sides of the political aisle.
Democrats were sure they had reached an agreement amongst their party for an amendment to extend the $300 weekly benefit through September. The original bill that passed the House last week upped the weekly amount to $400, but ended the benefit in August.
However, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, is offering a similar amendment for $300 that would go through July 18.
His proposal made Manchin, and possibly other moderates, give pause to supporting the Democratic amendment.
“Right now I feel bad for Joe Manchin,” said Senate Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D. “I hope the Geneva Convention applies to him.”
— Savannah Behrmann
Democrats reach deal regarding universal income amendment
Senate Democrats reached a deal to keep the federal unemployment benefit at $300 per week until September, down from a proposed increase to $400 in President Joe Biden's COVID-19 stimulus package, according to a Democratic aide.
Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., is expected to introduce an amendment to the $1.9 trillion legislation Friday as the Democrat-controlled Senate considers tweaks to the measure. His proposal will extend the $300 weekly benefit through September. The original bill that passed the House last week upped the weekly amount to $400, but ended the benefit in August.
The added unemployment benefit, currently at $300, has been a contentious point in the bill with Republicans voicing opposition to Democrats' plans to extend and up the payment amount. Congress faces a countdown to get the stimulus package to Biden by mid-March, when Americans are set to lose the current weekly federal unemployment boost.
Both progressive and moderate Democrats agreeing to the amendment comes after moderate Republicans, like Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah., told reporters Thursday he thinks "there would be Republicans who would agree to bring the number down."
Senate Finance Chair, Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who had been pushing to extend the benefits through September, told reporters that "in this kind of environment, where literally every single Democrat is key, so far the reaction has been positive."
The first $10,200 of the unemployment benefits will be non-taxable for the first time to prevent surprise bills for the unemployed at the end of year. The agreement also extends tax rules regarding excess business loss limitations for an additional year, through 2026.
– Savannah Behrmann and Nicholas Wu
The Senate began its final hours of debate on President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan despite Republican opposition to its final passage.
“We are going to power through and finish this bill, however long it takes,” vowed Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, warning of a lengthy amendment process set to begin midday Friday.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell slammed the bill as an “ideological spending spree packed with non-COVID-related costs.”
The Senate’s progress on the bill slowed to a crawl Thursday after Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., forced a reading of the entire 628-page legislation. The entire process took nearly 11 hours and did not conclude until the early hours of Friday morning.
"I can't imagine that's anyone's idea of a good time,” Schumer said, thanking the Senate staff, calling them the “unsung heroes” of the evening.
"As for our friend from Wisconsin, I hope he enjoyed his Thursday evening,” he said of Johnson.
The Senate was originally set to begin 20 hours of debate on the bill Friday, but at the end of Thursday’s session, Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., motioned for the chamber to reduce the debate time to three hours. With few Republicans left in the chamber shortly after 2 a.m. ET on Friday, Van Hollen succeeded.
Johnson said he was still in the chamber at the end of the session and was aware of Democrats' plan to change the amount of debate time.
"I stuck around to the very end to make sure they didn’t try to pull a fast one on us," Johnson said.
Once debate on the bill concludes, senators are expected to begin a period in which any member can introduce non-debatable amendments to the legislation. Republicans plan a flurry of votes during the period, dubbed a “vote-a-rama,” on controversial topics like abortion, the reopening of schools, and immigration.
— Nicholas Wu
A final Senate vote might not happen until late Friday or over the weekend on a COVID rescue package that includes $1,400 payments, extends unemployment benefits and expands vaccine distribution as Republicans continue to throw roadblocks to delay President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.
Debate on the bill was scheduled to begin Thursday after Vice President Kamala Harris, in her role as president of the Senate, broke a 50-50 tie to move the bill forward.
But Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., who opposes the measure, made the rare request that Senate clerks read aloud every word of the entire 628-page bill. That's added hours to the process.
The reading ended overnight, so senators will move on to three hours of debate, followed by a period when senators can propose and vote on amendments to the bill. The Senate is set to reconvene at 9 a.m. Friday.
Then GOP senators plan to propose a blizzard of amendments – including funding cuts to Amtrak and moving funds from family planning to youth suicide prevention – to change some aspects of the bill.
There's no expectation that a single Republican in the evenly divided Senate will vote for the relief package, no matter how it's reshaped. They object not only to provisions providing $350 billion for states and localities, expanded unemployment aid and rental assistance but also the size of the package.
"It's not likely that many of our amendments will get any Democrat support so I think it's very unlikely that any Republicans will support the final bill," Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, told reporters Thursday.
After the Senate's expected passage, it will have to go back to the House for its approval before heading to Biden's desk for his signature.
Biden and Democratic leaders are pushing to pass the bill before March 14 when unemployment benefits that were approved under an earlier relief bill expire.
- Ledyard King