Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks to reporters in the U.S. Capitol on Capitol Hill in Washington on February 10, 2021.
Al Drago | Reuters
Senate Democrats reached an agreement on Friday night on how to structure unemployment benefits in their $ 1.9 trillion coronavirus aid bill so the plan can move forward after hours of delays.
West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin backed his party’s unemployment benefit proposal after his reluctance to support an earlier iteration of the plan halted Democrats’ urge to approve the measure that weekend. The disagreement over unemployment insurance threw the Senate into chaos when Democrats and Republicans called on the Conservative Democrats to endorse their proposals on unemployment.
The deal will extend an unemployment benefit supplement that is currently $ 300 per week through September 6, according to NBC News. This means that the first $ 10,200 in unemployment benefits will not be taxable to avoid surprise bills. The provision applies to households earning less than $ 150,000.
Democrats will offer the change during a voting marathon on amendments known as Vote-a-Rama. After going through an indefinite number of changes, lawmakers can move closer to final adoption of the plan.
The Democrats initially proposed unemployment benefits of $ 400 per week through August.
The move to unemployment benefits appeared to be an attempt to appease various members of the democratic caucus. The party cannot lose a vote and still win a simple majority, the baseline, which is needed for the budget vote in the chamber, is divided evenly between parties.
The $ 100 a week cut in unemployment benefits seemed like a concession to the most conservative Democrats. Party leaders have already agreed to limit the number of people who would receive direct payments of $ 1,400 amid Manchin and others raised concerns about the direction of the checks.
The expansion of supplemental unemployment benefits should also appeal to the senators, led by Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden, who worried that millions of Americans would suddenly lose financial support when the unemployment benefits programs expired in August. The provisions on increasing unemployment benefits and extending the right to unemployment benefit once became obsolete last summer. Congress only renewed it in December.
Wyden has called for unemployment benefits to be tied to economic conditions so it doesn’t expire before the economy recovers. Some Republicans have spoken out against the relief bill, claiming a $ 400 weekly rise in unemployment would keep people from returning to work. They made the same argument when lawmakers approved a $ 600 per week allowance last year, but some research suggests the policy would not have a material impact on people who choose to look for work.
Democrats want to approve their latest bailout before March 14, the day the current $ 300 a week unemployment benefit expires. However, the delays on Friday threatened the expiry of the deadline.
Senate Democrats hope to pass the bill by next weekend. Republicans can drag the process out because there is no limit to the number of changes they can offer to the plan.
The House intends to approve the Senate version of the plan by next week and send it to President Joe Biden to sign the bill.
– CNBC’s Ylan Mui contributed to this report
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