Senate negotiations on President Joe Biden’s nearly $2 trillion coronavirus relief package ground to a halt Friday after Democrats failed to unanimously agree on a compromise on weekly unemployment benefits.
At the heart of the stalemate is West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, who has yet to agree to Senate Democrats’ unemployment benefits proposal.
Delaware Democratic Sen. Tom Carper readied an amendment lowering weekly unemployment benefits from $400 — as included in the House of Representatives’ version of the bill — to $300, and extended them through September instead of August. But Manchin has signaled that he is open to supporting another amendment offered by Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman, CNN reported, which mirrors Senate Democrats’ plan but would only offer $300 benefits through July 18.
In the 50-50 Senate, Democrats would need the support of every member of their caucus to pass Carper’s amendment, assuming every Republican votes against it.
Carper’s amendment has the backing of the White House, with multiple officials offering statements supporting it.
“The President believes it is critical to extend expanded unemployment benefits through the end of September to help Americans who are struggling,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Friday, adding that the amendment would “provide more relief” for those unemployed than the House version of the bill.
Portman told reporters earlier Friday that he believes his amendment can get more than 50 votes, allowing it to be included in the Senate bill. On the Senate floor, fellow moderate Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Jon Tester of Montana were seen talking with Manchin.
“The question is, from the Democrats’ standpoint, is how do they prevent us from getting a win,” Senate Minority Whip John Thune told reporters Friday afternoon. “They’ve essentially stopped action on the floor so they can try and persuade all of their members to stay together on some of those votes. I think they’re afraid they could lose on [unemployment benefits].”
Both amendments were offered as part of the Senate’s vote-a-rama, a multi-hour session where senators can offer unlimited amendments to the bill. The Senate underwent the same process in February before they ultimately voted to use budget reconciliation to pass the package, a legislative tool that allows it to skip the 60-vote Senate filibuster and advance with a simple majority.
February’s vote-a-rama began in the mid-afternoon and ended at approximately 5:30 a.m. the following day.
Senators had another late night Thursday, after Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson forced Senate clerks to read the entire 628-page bill out loud. That process began at approximately 3:30 p.m., and finished around 2 a.m. Friday morning.
Speaking on the Senate floor Friday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer vowed to “power through and finish this bill, however long it takes.”
“It would be so much better if we could in a bipartisan way, but we need to get it done,” he added. “We’re not going to make the same mistake we made after the last economic downturn, when Congress did too little.”
Democrats have vowed to pass the bill before Mar. 14, when unemployment benefits for millions are set to expire.
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