- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 6, 2021

Senate Democrats struck a deal late Friday to extend unemployment benefits with a $300 boost, allowing work on President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package to resume after a roughly 11-hour delay.

The breakthrough allowed the Senate to begin taking up a slew of amendments to the massive spending package that is expected to pass the chamber Saturday.

In the ensuing marathon overnight session, Democrats mostly shot down a series of Republican amendments to trim, more narrowly target or add conditions to the spending, such as a measure by Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, that would have required states to ensure schools open 50% of the time for 50% of students to receive COVID-19 funds.

Democratic leaders spent most of Friday negotiating with moderate Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia to secure his vote on the unemployment extension.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell scolded Democrats for fumbling when they tried to “jam through” the relief package without bipartisan dealmaking.

“A little tougher than they thought it was going to be, isn’t it?” said Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican. “Well, what this proves is there are benefits to bipartisanship when you’re dealing with an issue of this magnitude.”

Republicans criticized the bill for its huge price tag and scattershot spending. They said just 10% of the money goes to COVID-19 related issues and squanders the rescue spending on an economy that is already rebounding, pointing to Friday’s unemployment report that showed 379 thousand jobs added to the economy last month.

Washington last year spent $4 trillion on COVID-19 aid.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, rejected the criticism.

“If you just look at a big number you say, ‘Oh, everything’s getting a little better,’” Mr. Schumer said. “It’s not for the lower half of America. It’s not.”

The rescue package includes $1,400 checks to most Americans, $350 billion for state and local governments, $130 billion for K-12 schools, nearly $40 billion for colleges, $15 billion for loans to small businesses, $14 billion for vaccine programs, $8.4 billion for rural hospitals and an expansion of subsidies for Obamacare.

Mr. Schumer on Friday put the breaks on a process known as a vote-a-rama, which is supposed to fast-track Senate votes on amendments, after Democrats failed to add to the package a minimum wage hike to $15 per hour from the current $7.25.

It failed in a 42-58 vote, falling eight votes short of the 60 votes needed to survive.

The vote was then held open for 11 hours while Democratic leaders conducted backroom negotiations with Mr. Manchin to secure his support on extending supercharged jobless benefits.

The hang-up was the amount of extra money in unemployment checks. The House passed an extra $400 per week increase, but the Senate cut it down to a $300 boost.

The agreement they struck lowered the amount but slightly extended the benefits, which are set to expire this month, through Sept. 6 and made the first $10,200 of 2020 benefits nontaxable for households with an annual income of less than $150,000.

“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,” Mr. 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 [an] unexpected tax bill next year.”

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