WASHINGTON (AP) – Senate leaders and moderate Democratic Senator Joe Manchin reached a deal Friday night on jobless emergency allowances, breaking a nine-hour blockade that had stalled the party’s relief bill of 1 , $ 9 trillion COVID-19.
The compromise, announced by the West Virginia lawmaker and a Democratic aide, appeared to pave the way for the Senate to begin a series of landmark votes and marathon that should lead to the approval of sweeping legislation.
The comprehensive bill, President Joe Biden’s top legislative priority, aims to tackle the deadly pandemic and restore the health of the staggered economy. It would provide direct payments of up to $ 1,400 to most Americans and money for COVID-19 vaccines and tests, aid to state and local governments, aid to schools and the airline industry and subsidies for health insurance.
As the Senate then faced votes on a stack of amendments that were likely to pass overnight, the Democratic leaders’ deal with Manchin suggested it was only a matter of time until what the chamber adopts the bill. That would send him back to the House, which was to give him final Congressional approval and hand him over to Biden for his signature.
But the day’s long standoff also underscored the headaches that party leaders face over the next two years as they attempt to push their agenda forward in Congress with their meager majorities.
Manchin is arguably the most conservative Democrat in the chamber and a kingmaker in a 50-50 Senate that leaves his party speechless to spare. With the slim majority of Democrats – they only have a 10-vote advantage in the House – the party needs its vote but cannot bow too far to the center without losing progressive support.
With 10 million fewer jobs since the pandemic hit a year ago, helping unemployed Americans is a top Democratic priority. But it’s also an issue that has driven a wedge between progressives seeking to help jobless voters cope with the dismal economy and Manchin and other moderates who wanted to lower some of the costs of the bill.
“People around the country are suffering right now, within two weeks of the removal of enhanced unemployment checks,” Biden told the White House, referring to the March 14 end of the current round of unemployment benefits. emergency jobless. He called his bill a “clearly needed lifeline to gain the upper hand” against the pandemic.
The package faces a solid wall from GOP opposition, and Republicans have used the unemployment standoff to accuse Biden of refusing to seek a compromise with them.
“You can pick up the phone and end this right now,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, RS.C., said of Biden.
The Home’s version of the relief bill provided $ 400 in weekly unemployment benefits – in addition to regular state payments – until August. Manchin hoped to reduce those costs, saying the level of payment would discourage people from returning to work.
At the start of the day, Democrats claimed they had reached a compromise between moderates and progressives in the party extending jobless emergency benefits to $ 300 a week until early October. This plan, sponsored by Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., Also included tax cuts on certain unemployment benefits.
But at noon, lawmakers said Manchin was ready to back a less generous Republican version. This led to hours of talks involving White House aides, Senate Democrats and the Manchins as the party struggled to find a way to save its unemployment aid program.
The compromise announced Friday night would provide $ 300 per week, with the last check paid on September 6, and includes the tax break on those benefits.
Before the unemployment benefit drama began, senators voted 58-42 to eliminate a top progressive priority, a gradual increase in the current minimum hourly wage from $ 7.25 to $ 15 over five years.
Eight Democrats voted against the proposal, suggesting that Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., And other progressives vowing to continue the effort in the months to come will face an uphill battle.
But eight hours after that minimum wage call began, it still had not been officially closed as all Senate work ceased as Democrats struggled to resolve their unemployment benefits problem.
The next step would be a mountain of amendments, mostly by opponents of the GOP, virtually all doomed but designed to force Democrats to take politically awkward votes.
Republicans say the comprehensive bill is a liberal spending holiday that ignores the growing number of vaccinations and signs of a moving economy suggest the two crises are easing.
“Our country is already poised for a meteoric recovery,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Citing in part a surprisingly strong report on job creation. “Democrats inherited a tide that was already turning.”
Democrats reject this, citing the 10 million jobs the economy lost during the pandemic and many people still struggling to buy food and pay rent.
“If you just look at a lot of it, you say, ‘Oh, everything is a little better,’ said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y. “It’s not for the lower half of America. It’s not.”
An encouraging sign for Biden, a poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 70% of Americans support his handling of the pandemic, 44% of whom are Republicans.
Friday’s deadlock on unemployment benefits was not the first delay. On Thursday, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, forced House clerks to read aloud the entire 628-page relief bill, a grueling task that took employees 10 hours and 44 minutes and ended shortly after 2 a.m. EST.
Democrats made a host of other late changes to the bill designed to gain support. They ranged from extra money for food programs and federal subsidies for health care for workers who lose their jobs to funds for rural health care and language ensuring minimum amounts of money for them. small states.
In another late deal that has satisfied moderates, Biden and Senate Democrats agreed on Wednesday to make some higher wage earners ineligible for direct checks to individuals.
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