Efforts by U.S. Senate Democrats to advance President Joe Biden’s $ 1.9 trillion COVID-19 assistance bill were stalled on Friday as senators argued over how long to extend benefits to unemployment and how much to offer during the pandemic.
After the Senate defeated the latest attempt by some of Biden’s Democratic colleagues to raise the federal minimum wage, work on his first major legislative package was halted for hours as senators met behind closed doors to find a way forward.
“We are completely stuck,” Second Senate Republican John Thune told reporters.
Unemployment compensation was at the center of concerns, although it was only one of many battles to come over the far-reaching bill, as the Senate prepared to deal with dozens of amendments and a likely debate. to extend until the weekend.
The legislation plans to provide $ 400 per week in federal unemployment benefits until August to help Americans who have lost their jobs amid the pandemic.
Liberal and Moderate Senators agreed to a compromise that would set the federal benefit at $ 300 per week, in addition to existing state benefits, until September.
Republican Senator Rob Portman is advocating a competitive plan with the backing of business groups that would put the advantage at $ 300, but only until mid-July.
Moderate Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, a pivotal vote in the tightly divided Senate, had pushed to cut benefits from the bill’s current $ 400. Republicans said Manchin was under pressure from Democrats to stick to their compromise and not back Portman’s plan.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said the delay in the Senate was “to break someone’s political arm” and that Biden’s promise of bipartisanship sounded empty.
“To President Biden: is this the new way of doing business?” Graham told reporters.
Senator Dick Durbin, the number two Democrat in the chamber, told reporters efforts were underway to find “common ground” between the Democratic and Republican proposals.
Senators rejected a proposal by Senator Bernie Sanders to more than double the federal minimum wage from $ 7.25 an hour to $ 15 over five years. Sanders called the current level of wages a “starvation” in place for more than a decade.
Democrats hold a slim majority in the Senate and House of Representatives. Congress is working to complete work on the legislation so that it can be enacted by March 14, when some existing benefits related to the pandemic will expire.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer walks a tightrope as he tries to push the bill through the Senate, in a bid to keep Senate Liberals and moderates happy without alienating Democrats from the room.
With no voice to spare, Senate Democrats must keep all 50 members on board, allowing Vice President Kamala Harris to vote if no Republican backs the bill.
Senate approval of the legislation would send it back to the House of Representatives which must approve the revised bill before sending it to Biden for signature.