US Senate continues ‘vote-a-rama’ after unemployment amendment causes standstill

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The U.S. Senate resumed work on the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief measure Friday evening after a disagreement over unemployment benefits halted work for nearly 12 hours.

Democratic leaders and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., reached a deal after the senator objected to an amendment extending benefits to $300 a week until Oct. 4 and providing $10,200 in unemployment tax benefits regardless of income.

The negotiated proposal would continue the enhanced benefits until Sept. 6 and place a $150,000 cap on tax breaks. It would also extend tax rules on business losses through 2026.

“The President has made it clear we will have enough vaccines for every American by the end of May and I am confident the economic recovery will follow,” Manchin said. “We have reached a compromise that enables the economy to rebound quickly while also protecting those receiving unemployment benefits from being hit with unexpected tax bill next year.”

The agreement came to fruition as Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, pitched extending benefits until July 18. The Senate eventually approved the amendment 50-49 — with Manchin joining Republicans — as well as the Democratic amendment 50-49 with Democrats unified; the latter amendment supersedes the Republican provision in the legislation.

“The President supports the compromise agreement, and is grateful to all the Senators who worked so hard to reach this outcome,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said. “It extends supplemental unemployment benefit into September, and helps the vast majority of unemployment insurance recipients avoid unanticipated tax bills.”

The $1.9 trillion relief bill includes $1,400 relief checks for most Americans as well as funding for coronavirus vaccination and response efforts. The measure also dedicates $350 billion to local, state and tribal governments.

Senators began a “vote-a-rama” on the legislation after 11 a.m. Friday, in which lawmakers can propose various amendments. The Senate voted 58-42 to reject an amendment raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025, yet the vote remained open until shortly before 11 a.m. as discussions between Democrats and Manchin took place. Manchin was one of eight Democrats who joined the 50 Republican senators in voting against the proposal.

The “vote-a-rama” is slated to continue into Saturday morning.

The House of Representatives’ coronavirus relief measure includes an additional $400 a week through Aug. 29. The chamber passed its bill last week in a 219-212 vote with no Republicans backing the legislation.

Lawmakers are trying to pass a bill before extended unemployment benefits end March 13.

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