April 11, 2021

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Live stimulus updates: Senate considering changes to Joe Biden’s stimulus bill after long delay – USA TODAY

9 min read

McConnell fails to adjourn Senate after vote-a-rama delay

The Senate will continue to consider changes to President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 stimulus bill after Republicans failed to force the chamber to end Friday’s proceedings and pick up Saturday.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell put forth a motion to adjourn the Senate to until 10 a.m. Saturday morning. But the effort failed shortly before midnight, meaning the Senate will continue voting on amendments to the $1.9 trillion measure. 

The amendments process was delayed for nearly 12 hours Friday because Senate Democrats negotiated changes to an extension of unemployment benefits.

Speaking on the Senate floor Friday night, McConnell said, “Well my goodness it’s been quite a start, quite a start to this fast-track process.”

“What this proves is there are benefits to bipartisanship when you’re dealing with an issue of this magnitude,” he continued.

– Savannah Behrmann

President Joe Biden speaks during a roundtable meeting with Americans who will benefit from the COVID-19 pandemic relief checks that are a part of the American Rescue Plan stimulus package working its way through Congress.

Group of Senate Democrats, Republicans vote to keep $15 minimum wage out of stimulus bill  

A group of Democratic senators joined all Senate Republicans in voting against Sen. Bernie Sanders’ proposal to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour on Friday.

The Vermont independent tried to add the provision to President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 stimulus bill as the Senate considered the $1.9 trillion measure. But the effort failed in a 58-42 vote with eight members of the Senate Democratic caucus voting against it. 

The vote started at 11:03 a.m. EST and didn’t officially end for nearly 12 hours as Democrats and Republicans negotiated changes to an extension of unemployment benefits. 

The outcome of the vote could spell trouble for future Democratic attempts to raise the minimum wage, something Biden included in his initial stimulus proposal that passed the House last week. 

The eight Democratic caucus members who voted against the measure are:

  • Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.  
  • Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V. 
  • Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H. 
  • Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.  
  • Sen. Angus King, D-Maine (King caucuses with Democrats)  
  • Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del. 
  • Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del.  
  • Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H. 

Sanders, in a statement, said this was not the last time he would try to bring up the wage hike for a vote.

“If any senator believes this is the last time they will cast a vote on whether or not to give a raise to 32 million Americans, they are sorely mistaken. We’re going to keep bringing it up, and we’re going to get it done because it is what the American people demand and need,” he said. 

– Nicholas Wu  

The Capitol is seen at dusk Friday during an impasse in negotiations on President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill.

Senate presses forward on stimulus bill after hours-long impasse over unemployment benefits

The Senate is poised to press forward on President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus bill after Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., said he would support a compromise deal to extend a weekly $300 unemployment benefit, breaking an hours-long impasse over attempts to change the provision.

For about nine hours, senators negotiated over proposed changes to the massive package’s unemployment benefits. Much of the impasse focused on Manchin, a moderate Democrat who expressed interest in plans from Republicans and Democrats.

The compromise agreement extends the federal unemployment benefit at $300 per week through the end of August, according to a Democratic aide not authorized to speak on the record. The first $10,200 of unemployment benefits would be non-taxable for households with incomes under $150,000, the aide said. The original version of the bill passed by the House last week had the benefit at $400 per week running through the end of August.

Senate Democrats had announced a deal on unemployment benefits earlier in the day along similar lines, except with one extra month of unemployment benefits, but it was unclear at the time if Manchin would have supported their proposed changes. In a Senate split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats, opposition from Manchin would have killed the change.

Senate Republicans, however, signaled Manchin was poised to support their change to the benefits – an amendment to the legislation cutting the benefit to $300 and also ending it a month earlier than the House’s plan – a scheme anathema to progressives, who had pushed for more generous unemployment benefits.

Manchin said in a statement the deal “enables the economy to rebound quickly while also protecting those receiving unemployment benefits from being hit with (an) unexpected tax bill next year.”

After the deal was announced, the White House voiced his support. 

“The President supports the compromise agreement, and is grateful to all the Senators who worked so hard to reach this outcome,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki.

The Senate’s compromises in the bill could create difficulty for Democrats when they try to pass the bill again in the House week. The House already passed the legislation once, but the Senate’s changes require it to pass it one more time before Biden can sign it.

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J., said she was wondering whether she could still support the bill with the Senate’s changes.

“What are we doing here? I’m frankly disgusted with some of my colleagues and question whether I can support this bill,” she said in a tweet.

The relief package must still be passed by the House one more time, and House Democrats’ slim margin left little room for error. Two Democrats from the party’s conservative wing had voted against the bill the first time it passed the House, though progressives had united around the bill.

– Nicholas Wu

Senate vote-a-rama on stimulus bill stalls for nearly 6 hours 

Voting on amendments for President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus bill has been stalled in the U.S. Senate nearly six hours.

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.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, talks with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., while in the U.S. Capitol on Friday.

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

Biden’s COVID bill:Biden’s relief bill isn’t getting bipartisan support like previous stimulus bills. What do Republicans dislike so much?

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.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., arrives at the Capitol in Washington on Friday.

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

Senators begin final hours of debate on stimulus bill as Senate crawls towards bill’s final passage

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

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, thanked the Senate clerks who read the COVID-19 stimulus bill for over 10 hours.

GOP plans to try to reshape the legislation

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.

More:Democrats want to send $350B to cities and states with Biden’s COVID-19 relief bill, but Republicans see it as wasteful

More:How much money will your state get if Biden’s COVID-19 relief bill passes?

“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

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