Senate initiates vote-a-rama, crash over unemployment benefits

  • The Senate kicked off a “vote-a-branch” on Friday with a vote on a $ 15 minimum wage.
  • But proceedings were stalled due to a last-minute showdown over unemployment assistance.
  • Schumer said Democrats will pass the stimulus bill sometime this weekend.
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The Senate began a “vote-a-branch” on Friday with a vote on a minimum wage of $ 15 per hour, but proceedings were stalled due to a late showdown over unemployment benefits in the Democratic aid package. He highlighted the delicate form of the Democratic majority.

Senate Democrats reached an agreement on a last-minute change to the aid bill, cutting the federal unemployment benefit to $ 300 per week instead of $ 400. It would last until September, and not August 29 as in the version of the legislation of the House. He also waived taxes on the first $ 10,200 in unemployment assistance. The White House backed the plan.

But Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia seemed reluctant to back the new plan, according to a person familiar with the internal discussions. He objected to the duration and size of the benefit.

Instead, he considered voting for a dueling amendment from Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio. That proposal would extend a weekly benefit of $ 300 through June 18. It would not include any tax breaks for the unemployed, some of whom could receive a surprise tax bill later this year.

Manchin’s resistance halted the proceedings entirely for at least seven hours and counting on Friday. Negotiations were underway to gain their support and to be able to restart the branch vote. Republicans were quick to attack Democrats for the misstep.

“We think there is some bipartisanship to change the bill,” Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina said at a news conference. “But apparently that’s an unforgivable sin on the other side.”

The delay underscored the fragile state of the Democratic majority in an evenly divided Senate. His one-vote lead over Republicans in the House, with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tiebreaker, means that any Democratic legislative effort could be derailed without all Senate Democrats on board.

“In a 50-50 Senate, every vote is precious. Every vote matters,” Zach Moller, deputy director of economic policy for Third Way, a think tank at the center, told Insider. “If Democrats want to control the bill, they need to have unanimity in their party.”

Any major change to the bill could spark a riot among progressives in the House, who are critical in the Senate when a provision for a $ 15-an-hour minimum wage was scrapped. Democrats rushed to pass the bill before March 14, the date that improved unemployment insurance begins to expire.

“If it gets to a certain level, it may be necessary to renegotiate with the House and the White House,” Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland told reporters. He said that “it is not a desirable result” and added that “time is running out.”

A long process that will probably conclude over the weekend.

The “vote-a-branch” is a lengthy process in which some Democrats and Republicans will offer amendments to modify the $ 1.9 trillion stimulus bill. Democrats finalized changes to the legislation in recent days, including tightening eligibility for a third stimulus check and adjusting aid formulas for state and local aid.

Possible changes to unemployment assistance within the legislation raised concerns among experts that summer would be too soon for the federal government to disconnect benefit programs.

“People will continue to be long-term unemployed during the summer,” Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Century Foundation, told Insider. “People would not have enough money to survive when there are not many job opportunities.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the procedure can drag on for many hours. But Democrats intended to pass the bill sometime over the weekend.

“The Senate is going to get a lot of votes. But we are going to pass and finish this bill, no matter how long it takes,” he said Friday. “The American people are counting on us and our nation depends on it.”

Senate Democrats opened the proceedings with a vote at 11 a.m. to restore a minimum wage of $ 15 an hour on the bill. Technically, it was still ongoing as of Friday afternoon, as Democrats are working to resolve their dispute over unemployment assistance before moving forward.

The plan is expected to be defeated in a vote of 58-42. All 50 Republican senators voted against it, plus seven Democrats and one independent who is part of the Democrats.

The non-Republican senators in opposition were Jon Tester from Montana; Joe Manchin from West Virginia; Kyrsten Sinema from Arizona; Chris Coons from Delaware; Tom Carper from Delaware; King Angus of Maine; Jeanne Shaheen from New Hampshire; and Maggie Hassan from Maine.

The Senate MP struck down that part of the aid legislation and declared it outside the bounds of Senate guidelines last month. Senator Bernie Sanders, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, said Friday that he believed the official was “completely wrong” on the measure.

“It is an absurd process for us to allow an unelected staff member … to make a decision on whether or not 30 million Americans get a raise,” Sanders said during a speech in the room.

Republicans strongly oppose the $ 15 an hour minimum wage in the Senate. They argue that raising wages during a recession would cost many jobs and make unemployment worse.

This story will be updated.

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