Senate Dems To Lower Unemployment Benefits to $300 per Week

"U.S. Capitol Building at Night 2" (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Kevin Burkett

On Friday, Senate Democrats reached a deal to lower the weekly unemployment benefits included in the $1.9 trillion bills.

The Senate Democrats lowered the unemployment benefits to $300 per week from the $400 that was previously included in the version that was passed in the House. However, according to a Democratic aide, they extended the aid for an extra month. 

Due to the extension imposed, the supplemental aid would now last up until September rather than August. The negotiation between progressives and moderate Democrats would also make the first $10,200 of the jobless aid exempt from taxes.

The deal was arrived at after the Senate was stuck in limbo for hours as Democrats were trying to create an agreement that could earn all 50 votes within the caucus. Siad deal could also let the Senate to immediately resume its “vote-a-rama,” a marathon voting session, after it was halted following just one vote on whether it should include a minimum wage hike. 

Meanwhile, Senator Joe Manchin, who was at the center of the hours long limbo threw his support behind the deal.

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 unexpected tax bill next year.”

He added, “Those making less than $150,000 and receiving unemployment will be eligible for a $10,200 tax break. Unemployment benefits will be extended through the end of August.”

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) was more careful at saying that he do not want to get ahead of himself after the initial setback that happened. However, Wyden said “we’ve made a lot of progress.”

In addition to this, Wyden also stated that the agreement that was reached last Friday would allow Congress to “avoid the August cliff,” in reference to the concerns that the lawmakers would set the end of financial aids while they were in the middle of a scheduled August recess. 

This marks as a chaotic start to the deliberation of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill which Democrats are trying to pass this weekend. 

Before the drama with the unemployment benefits began, Senators voted 58-42 to get rid of top progressive priority – a gradual increase in the current $7.25 hourly minimum wage to achieve $15 over five years. 

In the 50-50 chamber, eight Democrats voted against that proposal, suggesting that Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) and other progressives will face a difficult fight in the upcoming months as they vow to continue the effort.

The voting session began shortly after 11 am EST and was not formally adjourned to until nearly 12 hours later as the Senate work ground to a standstill during the negotiations for the unemployment benefits. This negotiation is by far among the longest in modern Senate history. 

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) criticized their daylong effort to work out the unemployment amendment and calling it a “spectacle. McConnell said, “What this proves is there are benefits to bipartisanship when you’re dealing with an issue of this magnitude.”

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

In the marathon overnight session in the Senate, Democrats mostly shut down a series of amendments proposed by Republican senators to trim and narrowly target or add conditions to the spending of the $1.9 trillion bill. Included in the proposed amendments is ensuring the schools are open 50% of the time for 50% of students to receive coronavirus funds.