WASHINGTON — The Senate blazed through a series of votes on the Covid-19 relief bill after hours of delay, putting the chamber on track to pass the $1.9 trillion package Saturday.
Senate Democrats were on the verge of advancing the legislation Friday, but spent more than nine hours resolving an internal clash over jobless benefits that threatened to derail the effort.
As the "vote-a-rama" continued late into the night and after sunrise, Democrats voted down a swath of Republican amendments in the hope of protecting a delicately negotiated package that can pass.
Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia appeared to be the cause of the delay after he resisted an earlier provision on unemployment benefits. Manchin, a moderate, has emerged as the Democrat who's most willing to buck his leadership, and the party cannot afford to lose a single vote.
The Friday night agreement will provide federal unemployment benefits at $300 a week and expire September 6, according a Democratic aide.
"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," Manchin said in a statement after the agreement was announced. "Those making less than $150,000 and receiving unemployment will be eligible for a $10,200 tax break.”
The deal enabled the Senate to move forward with votes. Senators continued to vote through the night on a series of amendments, still offering changes to the bill when the sun rose in Washington. Final passage was expected some time on Saturday.
"Now that this agreement has been reached, we are going to power through the rest of this process and get this bill done," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said late Friday.
The deal is a reduction in benefits from the House-passed version, which included $400-per-week jobless benefits through August.
"The President supports the compromise agreement, and is grateful to all the Senators who worked so hard to reach this outcome," White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., mocked Democrats for their internal divisions that forced the historic delay on Friday. He sought to adjourn the chamber until Saturday, which was rejected by Democrats.
The first pact — which Manchin had derailed — was a result of talks between progressive and moderate Democrats, one aide said. Moderates wanted the weekly benefit to be cut to $300 per week. Many Democrats wanted the month-long jobless bonus to avoid a “cliff” as it expires at the end of August, when Congress is typically out of session and may be unwilling to come back to fix it.
The amendment process got off to a rough start Friday with Democrats holding the first vote open for a record 11 hours and 50 minutes as they worked to keep all 50 of their senators on the same page. Due to likely unanimous Republican opposition, they can’t afford any defections if they are to pass the bill in a narrowly divided chamber.
The jobless benefit deal between Democrats allows the first $10,200 of the jobless benefits to be non-taxable incomes up to $150,000, which they say will prevent surprise tax bills for the jobless. It also extends tax rules on excess business loss limitations for one additional year, through 2026.
The Senate rejected a motion by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., to re-add a minimum wage hike to $15-an-hour in the Covid bill. The vote required 60 senators to waive the budget rules, and failed 42-58.
Eight Democrats voted against it, joining all Republicans: Manchin, Carper, Chris Coons of Delaware, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Angus King of Maine (an independent who caucuses with Democrats), Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Jon Tester of Montana.
On Friday afternoon, Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, left Washington, D.C. for his home state because of a family emergency, an aide familiar with his plans said. His departure leaves Republicans with one fewer vote to battle Democrats during the amendment process.