Senate Eyes Weekend Stimulus Vote Even as Biden Pushes for Deal

The Senate is scrapping plans to begin debate Wednesday on President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion pandemic-relief bill, increasing the likelihood that passage of the bill in the upper chamber gets pushed into the weekend.

While Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer had planned to kick off debate Wednesday night, that timeline will be delayed as lawmakers await an official cost estimate on the latest version of the bill, according to a Senate Democratic aide.

Senators are making changes to the package that passed in the House, including stripping out a minimum-wage increase. Biden earlier agreed to moderate Democrats’ demands for tightening eligibility for $1,400 stimulus checks, which will also affect the Congressional Budget Office’s calculation of the overall price tag.

Once the CBO’s numbers are in and the Senate votes to begin debate, that kicks off what could be a multi-day process. Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin says he’ll demand an entire reading of the 700-page bill -- something that could take 10 hours. Next up is the debate, which could last up to 20 hours.

The final step before the Senate completes its work -- and Schumer has pledged to finish in time to get the bill to Biden by March 14 -- is the “vote-a-rama.” That’s where the Senate votes on amendments, with GOP members vowing to stretch the process out for days, as long as lawmakers’ stamina to keep voting lasts.

So far the weekend work doesn’t threaten the Democrats’ goal of enacting the bill before the March 14 expiration of existing expanded unemployment benefits. However if major changes are made in the Senate that are unacceptable to House Democrats that could force a conference committee to convene and delay final passage by Congress.

Biden Outreach

Biden has repeatedly spoken this week with Democratic senators to ensure the unity that will be vital to passage given Republican opposition and the chamber’s 50-50 partisan divide.

The president agreed to a lower cap for zeroing-out stimulus payments in the aid bill, according to a Democratic aide.

The payments begin phasing out above $75,000 in annual income for individuals and $150,000 for couples, the same as set in the House bill, the aide said on condition of anonymity. But under the Biden-backed Senate Democratic compromise, it cut off for individuals making over $80,000, compared with a $100,000 cap in the House-passed bill. And the ceiling for couples would be $160,000 instead of $200,000.

Democratic Senators, including Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, had advocated tighter targeting to reduce funds being transferred to those who don’t need it. Their votes will be critical in passing the legislation given the Senate’s 50-50 partisan split and the united GOP opposition.

A separate push by moderates to trim supplemental unemployment benefits to $300-a-week from the $400 approved in the House won’t be included in what is initially brought to the Senate floor, according to the aide.

The Senate’s so-called managers’ amendment to the House bill is expected to keep the House’s figure, which is a $100-a-week increase from the current level through August. However that could get trimmed back to $300 in the amendment process.

Senate Eyes Weekend Stimulus Vote Even as Biden Pushes for Deal

The language Biden approved gives both the moderate and progressive wings of the Senate Democratic caucus one item they wanted in the final negotiations.

“That’s a reasonable compromise,” said Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, a member of Schumer’s leadership team. “We’re in a good spot to get this done.”

Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington, by contrast, said, “I think the package as it had been crafted was good to go.” She said that “I think people need money.”

Democrats are aiming to resolve their outstanding differences before the vote-a-rama. Once that starts, the danger is that Republicans could reshape some of the provisions by peeling off just one Democrat.

Indeed, GOP Senator Rob Portman of Ohio said Wednesday he’s working on vote-a-rama amendments to further target the bill.

The Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois, predicted that Democrats would in the end stick together on the stimulus-check and unemployment-insurance language signed off on by Biden.

“I think some negotiations and concessions have been made to solidify the Democratic support,” Durbin said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “We are interested in seeing the total package when it comes out but so far so good.”

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