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: Pandemic-related jobless benefits derail $1.9 trillion stimulus debate in Senate

: Pandemic-related jobless benefits derail $1.9 trillion stimulus debate in Senate

2021-03-05 23:22:00
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An earlier version of this report incorrectly identified Senator Joe Manchin's political party. He is a Democrat. The story has been corrected.

On Friday there was drama in the vote of the senate.

What Democrats had billed as the last step before the Senate passed the massive $ 1.9 trillion coronavirus economic package – a marathon series of rapid-fire votes for amendments called vote-a-rama expected to last until Saturday – ran out early and raised questions about the fate of the bill.

The setback was embarrassing for the Democrats, who had held together most of the behind-the-scenes process of putting the package together, and it could be an example of how the evenly divided Senate will operate with moderates from both parties in the game. .

For Republicans, the Senate floor freeze for more than five hours showed that the Democratic leaders didn't want their members to be bipartisan at all.

"We are at least in the fifth hour explaining to those Democrats, 'You can't work with Republicans. It's not allowed to work with Republicans. It's not allowed to work with Republicans. , and we'll sit here until you change your mind and make the whole country wait, & # 39; & # 39; said Senator Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican, at a news conference.

At the center of the standoff was Senator Joe Manchin, the moderate West Virginia Democrat who, according to other senators, was considering voting in favor of an amendment to the bill sponsored by Senator Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican and one of the more moderate members of his party. , instead of one offered by Senator Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat.

Carper's amendment would have flipped some money in the bill to extend unemployment programs related to the coronavirus pandemic – longer federal benefits and a weekly federal supplement payment – to October instead of the end of August. It would have paid for this by reducing the size of the add-on payments from $ 400 to $ 300 per week. Portman's amendment would end the special pandemic unemployment programs even earlier than August.

Asked if Senate Democrats could accept Portman's amendment, Senator Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, said, "Well, we don't want that. We want to get this wrapped up."

Republicans said they felt sympathy for Manchin, who, they said, was unfairly pressured by his fellow Democrats to follow a party line. & # 39; I feel bad for Joe Manchin. I hope the Geneva Convention applies to him, ”joked Senator John Thune, the second Republican in the Senate, referring to international rules calling for humane treatment in wartime.

Manchin told reporters on Thursday that he thought the U.S. economy was poised to soar, thanks in part to the faster rollout of coronavirus vaccinations. "I think this is going to take off, and we want our people to be ready to go back to work," he said.

Because the Senate is split 50-50, even a single apostasy sinks a democratic determination if all other senators vote along strict party lines.

The standstill also meant that the Democratic leaders held an open ballot in which all senators voted – a procedural vote on an amendment to increase the federal minimum wage offered by Vermont independent budget chair Bernie Sanders.

Democrats needed 60 votes to vote on the amendment but got only 42, a sign of unease in the party with a $ 15 minimum wage was not just limited to Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, a moderate Democrat from Arizona.

The minimum wage would be the first of many votes in the vote-a-rama, a process senators hate for having to quickly vote up or down on amendments they have barely seen and are debated for only two minutes. Republicans had threatened to demand votes on even more amendments than usual, likely pushing the vote to Saturday.

Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar remained optimistic and advised reporters to be patient. & # 39; We will get this done. It takes time to pass legislation if you really do work, and we haven't done that for a long time. Now we are, "she said.

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