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Senate Works Through Night on Virus Aid03/06 09:23

   The Senate worked through the night and past sunrise Saturday on Democrats' 
showpiece $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill after a deal between leaders and 
moderate Sen. Joe Manchin on emergency jobless benefits broke a logjam that had 
stalled the package.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Senate worked through the night and past sunrise 
Saturday on Democrats' showpiece $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill after a 
deal between leaders and moderate Sen. Joe Manchin on emergency jobless 
benefits broke a logjam that had stalled the package.

   The compromise, announced by Manchin, D-W.Va., and a Democratic aide late 
Friday and backed by President Joe Biden, cleared the way for the Senate to 
begin a marathon series of votes on amendments before eventual approval of the 
sweeping legislation. The bill then would return to the House, which was 
expected to give it final congressional approval and send it to Biden to sign.

   Biden's foremost legislative priority is aimed at battling the killer 
pandemic and nursing the economy back to health. It would provide direct 
payments of up to $1,400 to most Americans and money for COVID-19 vaccines and 
testing, aid to state and local governments, help for schools and the airline 
industry and subsidies for health insurance.

   Shortly before midnight, the Senate began to take up a variety of amendments 
in rapid-fire fashion. The votes were mostly on Republican proposals virtually 
certain to fail but designed to force Democrats into politically awkward votes. 
It was unclear how long into the weekend the "vote-a-rama" would last.

   By daybreak Saturday, senators had worked through more than a dozen 
amendments without substantially changing the overall package.

   The lengthy standoff underscored the headaches confronting party leaders 
over the next two years --- and the tensions between progressives and centrists 
--- as they try moving their agenda through the Congress with their slender 
majorities.

   Manchin is probably the chamber's most conservative Democrat, and a 
kingmaker in the 50-50 Senate. But Democrats cannot tilt too far center to win 
Manchin's vote without endangering progressive support in the House, where they 
have a mere 10-vote edge.

   Aiding unemployed Americans is a Democratic priority. But it's also an issue 
that drives a wedge between progressives seeking to help jobless constituents 
cope with the bleak economy and Manchin and other moderates who have wanted to 
trim some of the bill's costs.

   Biden noted Friday's jobs report showing that employers added 379,000 
workers --- an unexpectedly strong showing. That's still small compared with 
the 10 million fewer jobs since the pandemic struck a year ago.

   "Without a rescue plan, these gains are going to slow," Biden said. "We 
can't afford one step forward and two steps backwards. We need to beat the 
virus, provide essential relief, and build an inclusive recovery."

   The overall bill faced a solid wall of GOP opposition, and Republicans used 
the unemployment impasse to accuse Biden of refusing to seek compromise with 
them. "You could pick up the phone and end this right now," Sen. Lindsey 
Graham, R-S.C., said of Biden.

   But in an encouraging sign for Biden, a poll by The Associated Press-NORC 
Center for Public Affairs Research found that 70% of Americans support his 
handling of the pandemic, including a noteworthy 44% of Republicans.

   The all-night amendment process did little to change the outcome.

   Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, sought to swap in Republican centrists' $650 
billion alternative proposal, which Biden had panned as inadequate. That and 
other amendments failed, including one from Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., on the 
Keystone XL pipeline.

   One proposal that did pass, from Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., would require 
schools, within 30 days of receiving money from the bill, to develop publicly 
available plans for in-person instruction. It appeared designed to fend of 
Republican criticisms that Biden's package does not do enough to swiftly reopen 
schools.

   The House approved a relief bill last weekend that included $400 weekly 
jobless benefits --- on top of regular state payments --- through August. 
Manchin was hoping to reduce those costs, asserting that level of payment would 
discourage people from returning to work, a rationale most Democrats and many 
economists reject.

   As Friday began, Democrats asserted they'd reached a compromise between 
party moderates and progressives extending emergency jobless benefits at $300 
weekly into early October.

   That plan, sponsored by Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., also included tax 
reductions on some unemployment benefits. Without that, many Americans abruptly 
tossed out of jobs would face unexpected tax bills.

   But by midday, lawmakers said Manchin was ready to support a less generous 
Republican version. That led to hours of talks involving White House aides, top 
Senate Democrats and Manchin.

   The compromise would provide $300 weekly, with the final check paid on Sept. 
6, and includes the tax break on benefits.

   Before the unemployment benefits drama began, senators voted 58-42 to kill a 
top progressive priority, a gradual increase in the current $7.25 hourly 
minimum wage to $15 over five years. Eight Democrats voted against that 
proposal, suggesting that Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and other progressives 
vowing to continue the effort in coming months will face a difficult fight.

   That vote began shortly after 11 a.m. EST and was not formally gaveled to a 
close until nearly 12 hours later as Senate work ground to a halt amid the 
unemployment benefit negotiations. It was among the longest votes in modern 
Senate history.

   Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., chided Democrats, calling 
their daylong effort to work out the unemployment amendment a "spectacle."

   "What this proves is there are benefits to bipartisanship when you're 
dealing with an issue of this magnitude," McConnell said.

   Republicans criticized the overall relief bill as a liberal spend-fest that 
ignores that growing numbers of vaccinations and signs of a stirring economy 
suggest that the twin crises are easing.

   "Democrats inherited a tide that was already turning." McConnell said.

   Democrats reject that, citing the job losses and numerous people still 
struggling to buy food and pay rent.

   "If you just look at a big number you say, 'Oh, everything's getting a 
little better,'" said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. "It's not 
for the lower half of America. It's not."

   Friday's gridlock over unemployment benefits gridlock wasn't the first delay 
on the relief package. On Thursday Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., forced the 
chamber's clerks to read aloud the entire 628-page relief bill, an exhausting 
task that took staffers 10 hours and 44 minutes and ended shortly after 2 a.m. 
EST.  




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