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Senate Democrats Push to Extend Unemployments Payments After Dropping Increase

President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package ground to a standstill in the Senate on Friday, as Democrats haggled among themselves over the size and duration of federal unemployment payments that are a crucial piece of the plan.

Top Democrats, working to preserve moderate support for the package, had planned to drop their effort to increase those payments from $300 a week to $400 but extend them for an additional month, through Oct. 4, hoping that the concession would keep the pandemic aid plan on track.

But it appeared that Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a centrist whose support they need to maneuver the plan through the 50-50 Senate with all Republicans opposed, remained unsatisfied.

The impasse halted the measure just as the Senate had begun voting on proposed changes. What was supposed to have been a 15-minute vote on a minimum-wage increase stretched for longer than six hours as Democrats stalled for time, huddling on the Senate floor in search of a solution.

The White House declined to say whether Mr. Biden had reached out to Mr. Manchin to try to secure his support. A White House official said that Mr. Biden “supports a compromise” and that he and his team were “staying in close contact with senators to find a resolution that will deliver for Americans who need help the most.”

Another wrinkle arose late Friday when Senator Dan Sullivan, Republican of Alaska, left the Capitol to catch a flight to Fairbanks and attend his father-in-law’s funeral. A spokesman, Nate Adams, confirmed the senator’s departure and said Mr. Sullivan “intended to vote against final passage of the bill and made his opposition clear” by voting against advancing the measure.

In an evenly divided Senate, Mr. Sullivan’s absence will give Democrats an extra vote of leeway as they haggle over a series of last-minute changes to the $1.9 trillion package. But it is unlikely to resolve the current impasse, given that Mr. Manchin appears to be contemplating supporting a Republican amendment that would curtail unemployment insurance benefits.

With the existing $300-a-week payments set to lapse on March 14, Mr. Biden’s stimulus proposal and the House bill that passed last weekend to implement it would increase the aid to $400 a week and extend it through the end of August.

Some moderate Senate Democrats are opposed to raising the amount, while others are concerned about the possibility that the benefits could lapse when the chamber is typically on recess. Democrats’ proposal would address both issues, as well as making a large portion of 2020 jobless benefits tax-free.

In a brief interview, Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon and the chairman of the Finance Committee, said the change “avoids the August cliff, secures tax forgiveness — preventing what I call the unexpected unemployment tax surprise — and keeps the caucus together.”

The White House had signaled support, with Ron Klain, the chief of staff, tweeting, “This compromise is a great result.”

The proposal, introduced by Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, was one of dozens of amendments the Senate was set to consider on Friday in a marathon session of rapid-fire votes, now delayed by the impasse. The vote-a-rama, as it is known, could have stretched long past midnight and paved the way for a Senate vote to pass the stimulus plan as early as Saturday.

The unemployment provision would forgive up to $10,200 in taxes on benefits received in 2020. Mr. Wyden, who was among those pushing to increase the unemployment payment to $400, said on the Senate floor that he was “really hoping this brings all sides of the Senate together.”

Democrats are racing against the clock, as some Americans have already begun to file their taxes and unemployment benefits are set to begin lapsing next weekend. The agreement would also extend tax rules regarding excess business loss limitations for one additional year, through 2026.

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