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Manchin, Democrats Compromise After Disagreement Over Unemployment Benefits Leads To Nine-Hour Delay

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  • Senate negotiations on President Joe Biden’s nearly $2 trillion coronavirus relief package resumed Friday evening, after Democrats’ failure to compromise on the scope of weekly unemployment benefits led to an over nine-hour delay.
  • At the heart of the stalemate was West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, who initially declined to agree to Senate Democrats’ unemployment benefits proposal, before announcing that he and his caucus had reached a compromise.
  • The new compromise extends existing unemployment benefits at $300 a week through Sept. 6, and adds up to $10,200 in benefits tax free for families with incomes below $150,000. It also extends “tax rules for business loss limitations” 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 in a statement.

Senate negotiations on President Joe Biden’s nearly $2 trillion coronavirus relief package resumed Friday evening, after Democrats’ failure to compromise on the scope of weekly unemployment benefits led to an over nine-hour delay.

At the heart of the stalemate was West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, who initially declined to agree to Senate Democrats’ unemployment benefits proposal, before announcing that he and his caucus had reached a compromise.

Before the delay, 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 extending them through September instead of August. But Manchin signaled that he was open to supporting another amendment offered by Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman, CNN reported, that mirrors Senate Democrats’ plan but would only offer $300 benefits through July 18.

The new compromise extends existing unemployment benefits at $300 a week through Sept. 6, and adds up to $10,200 in benefits tax free for families with incomes below $150,000. It also extends “tax rules for business loss limitations” 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 in a statement. “We have reached a compromise that enables the economy to rebound quickly while also protecting those receiving unemployment benefits” from having to pay unexpected taxes.

In the 50-50 Senate, Democrats need the support of every member of their caucus to pass the compromise, assuming every Republican votes against it. If the vote falls along party lines, Vice President Kamala Harris would cast the tie-breaking vote.

Sen. Tom Carper at the U.S. Capitol. (Stefani Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images)

The White House had earlier backed Carper’s amendment, 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. (RELATED: Biden, Democrats Reach Deal Lowering Cutoff For Coronavirus Stimulus Checks)

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. Early in the delay, fellow moderate Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Jon Tester of Montana were seen talking with Manchin on the Senate floor.

“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].”

Senate Minority Whip John Thune at the U.S. Capitol (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Both amendments were offered ahead of the Senate’s vote-a-rama, a multi-hour session where senators can offer unlimited amendments to the bill, and the marathon session was set to begin after the compromise was reached. 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. (RELATED: Seven Democrats, One Independent Vote Against $15 Minimum Wage Amendment)

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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