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Senate Democrats reach agreement on jobless benefits, and a relief bill is on the way.

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Senate Democrats reach agreement on jobless benefits, and a relief bill is on the way.

 

Senate leaders and moderate Democratic Senator Joe Manchin reached an agreement on emergency unemployment insurance, breaking a deadlock that had stymied the party’s flagship $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill.

Late Friday, the West Virginia senator and a Democratic aide announced an agreement that appeared to pave the way for the Senate to begin a tense, marathon series of votes and, finally, approval of the sweeping legislation.

The overall bill, which is President Joe Biden’s top legislative goal, aims to combat the deadly pandemic while also reviving the country’s ailing economy. Many Americans will receive direct grants of up to $1,400, as well as funds for COVID-19 vaccination and research, state and local government assistance, school and airline industry assistance, and health insurance subsidies.

The Senate then had to vote on a slew of amendments that would possibly last all night, most of which were Republican bills that were almost guaranteed to fail but were intended to compel Democrats to cast politically uncomfortable votes.

More importantly, the jobless compensation deal indicated that passage of the bill in the Senate was only a matter of time. That would return it to the House, where it was supposed to receive final congressional approval and be whisked off to Biden for signature.

Biden supports the agreement on unemployment benefits, according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki.

The day’s long filibuster highlighted the difficulties that party leaders will face over the next two years — as well as conflicts between progressives and centrists — as they continue to push their agenda through Congress with their slender majorities.

Manchin is the most democratic Democrat in the Senate and a kingmaker in the 50-50 Senate. However, if the party wants to win Manchin’s vote, it can’t go too far to the middle without jeopardizing progressive support in the House, where they only have a 10-vote advantage.

A top Democratic priority is to assist unemployed Americans. But it’s also a point of contention between progressives who want to help jobless voters cope with the downturn and Manchin and other moderates who want to cut some of the bill’s costs.

Biden cited Friday’s employment study, which showed that employers hired 379,000 people, an unusually high number. That’s only a drop in the bucket compared to the 10 million jobs lost since the pandemic began a year ago.

“These gains would slow if there isn’t a rescue plan,” Biden said. “We can’t afford to take two steps forward and one step back. We must defeat the virus, provide critical relief, and foster a broad-based recovery.”

Republicans have used the unemployment impasse to accuse Biden of refusing to work with them to find a solution.

Senator Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, said of Biden, “You should pick up the phone and stop this right now.”

However, a survey conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research showed that 70% of Americans, including a significant 44 percent of Republicans, favor Biden’s handling of the pandemic.

Last weekend, the House passed a relief bill that provided $400 weekly jobless compensation, in addition to daily state payments, until August. Manchin hoped to cut expenses by claiming that the current level of pay would deter workers from going to work, a claim that most Democrats and many economists disagree with.

As the day began, Democrats said that they had reached an agreement between party conservatives and progressives to extend emergency jobless benefits worth $300 a week until early October.

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., introduced the bill, which contained tax cuts for certain unemployment benefits. Without it, many Americans who have been laid off will face unpredictable tax bills.

However, by midday, lawmakers said Manchin was willing to support a more conservative Republican version. Hours of talks ensued between White House aides, top Senate Democrats, and Manchin as the party attempted to rescue its unemployment assistance package.

The agreement revealed Friday night would include $300 a week, with the final check due on Sept. 6, which would provide the bonus tax break.

Senators voted 58-42 to eliminate a top progressive priority, a gradual rise in the existing $7.25 hourly minimum wage to $15 over five years, before the unemployment insurance drama began.

Eight Democrats voted against it, implying that Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and other progressives vowing to press on in the coming months would face a tough fight.

As Senate work came to a halt amid the unemployment compensation talks, the vote began shortly after 11 a.m. EST and was not officially givenled to a close until nearly 12 hours later.

Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader, chastised Democrats, calling their daylong attempt to reach an agreement on the unemployment amendment a “spectacle.”

“What this demonstrates is that there are advantages of bipartisanship when dealing with a major issue,” McConnell said.

Republicans slammed the overall relief package as a liberal spending binge that ignores the fact that rising vaccination rates and signs of a resurgent economy indicate the twin crises are easing.

McConnell said, “Democrats inherited a tide that was already turning.”

Democrats disagree, citing employment losses and the fact that many people are now unable to afford food and pay their rent.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said, “If you just look at a big number, you think, ‘Oh, everything’s getting a little better.” “It isn’t for the majority of Americans. It isn’t.”

The gridlock over unemployment compensation on Friday wasn’t the first time the relief program had been delayed. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., required clerks to read aloud the entire 628-page relief bill on Thursday, an exhaustive process that took aides 10 hours and 44 minutes and finished shortly after 2 a.m. EST.

Democrats made a slew of other late amendments to the bill in an attempt to shore up support. They ranged from additional funding for food services and federal health-care subsidies for employees who lose their jobs to grants for rural health care and language ensuring minimum funding for smaller states.

In yet another late-night deal that appeased progressives, Biden and Senate Democrats decided on Wednesday to exclude certain higher-income earners from the direct payments to individuals.

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