NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Saturday, March 6th, 2021

U.S. Senate passes Biden’s American Rescue Plan with concessions to Senator Joe Manchin

Joe Biden’s Amer­i­can Res­cue Plan is one step clos­er to becom­ing law.

After a gru­el­ing effort by Sen­ate Demo­c­ra­t­ic to bring the leg­is­la­tion to a vote on final pas­sage — which, mad­den­ing­ly, involved pla­cat­ing West Vir­gini­a’s pow­er drunk­en Sen­a­tor Joe Manchin — the mas­sive, bad­ly need­ed COVID-19 relief bill got a green light to go back to the House of Representatives.

With Alaska’s Unit­ed States Sen­a­tor Dan Sul­li­van absent, Vice Pres­i­dent Kamala Har­ris’ tiebreak­ing vote was not need­ed to pass the bill. All fifty Demo­c­ra­t­ic sen­a­tors vot­ed for it, while the oth­er forty-nine Repub­li­cans vot­ed against it.

The roll call from the Pacif­ic North­west was, con­se­quent­ly, along par­ty lines.

Vot­ing Aye: Demo­c­ra­t­ic Sen­a­tors Pat­ty Mur­ray and Maria Cantwell (WA), Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley (OR), Jon Tester (MT)

Vot­ing Nay: Repub­li­can Sen­a­tors Jim Risch and Mike Crapo (ID), Steve Daines (MT), Lisa Murkows­ki (AK)

Not Vot­ing: Repub­li­can Sen­a­tor Dan Sul­li­van (AK)

The near­ly $2 tril­lion bill would make impor­tant and bad­ly need­ed invest­ments in pub­lic health, unem­ploy­ment insur­ance, and infra­struc­ture. Low income Amer­i­cans and many mid­dle income Amer­i­cans would receive fur­ther eco­nom­ic impact pay­ments of $1,400 — ful­fill­ing a cam­paign promise made by Sen­a­tors Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff of Geor­gia when they were candidates.

The Sen­ate ver­sion of the bill does not include an increase in the min­i­mum wage to $15/hour, a key pro­gres­sive pri­or­i­ty. Pro­vi­sions per­tain­ing to the exten­sion of unem­ploy­ment insur­ance had to be mod­i­fied to pla­cate Sen­a­tor Joe Manchin of West Vir­ginia, the Sen­ate Demo­c­ra­t­ic cau­cus’ most right wing member.

As Politi­co put it:

Fri­day was Manchin’s most quin­tes­sen­tial moment: The cen­trist Demo­c­rat par­a­lyzed the entire Sen­ate for more than ten hours and threat­ened to side with Repub­li­cans seek­ing to cut weeks of unem­ploy­ment benefits.

In the end, it took a direct call from Pres­i­dent Biden, a meet­ing with Schumer and sig­nif­i­cant con­ces­sions to get Manchin on board.

He trimmed sev­er­al weeks of unem­ploy­ment ben­e­fits off of Sen­a­tor Tom Carper’s (D‑Delaware) com­pro­mise amend­ment from ear­li­er in the day and added a $150,000 cap to the proposal’s tax deduc­tion for up to $10,200 in unem­ploy­ment benefits.

The deal Manchin extract­ed ensures that the pan­dem­ic ben­e­fits boost expires before the cur­rent expi­ra­tion of gov­ern­ment fund­ing. His par­ty had hoped to extend the aid through Sep­tem­ber, but now it will expire on Labor Day in the mid­dle of a sched­uled recess.

Sen­ate Major­i­ty Leader Chuck Schumer hailed the plan as “strong” and “deep” and told reporters at a press con­fer­ence: “I think this is a very fine day… We told the Amer­i­can peo­ple in the elec­tion cam­paign that Democ­rats would actu­al­ly get gov­ern­ment to help them… We’re keep­ing our promises.”

“The Amer­i­can peo­ple vot­ed for lead­ers who would deliv­er the relief they need to weath­er this pan­dem­ic and eco­nom­ic cri­sis — and they won’t for­get that Democ­rats answered the call for help,’ said DNC Chair Jaime Harrison.

“Sen­ate Democ­rats just came togeth­er to pass Pres­i­dent Biden’s Amer­i­can Res­cue Plan, a relief bill that includes: direct pay­ments to Amer­i­cans, expand­ed and extend­ed unem­ploy­ment ben­e­fits, fund­ing for vac­cine dis­tri­b­u­tion, fund­ing to safe­ly reopen schools, and assis­tance for small businesses.”

“This plan has broad bipar­ti­san sup­port from the pub­lic, and from state and local offi­cials of both par­ties across the coun­try. And yet, while our coun­try is in need and folks are hurt­ing, Repub­li­cans in Con­gress once again tried to stand in the way of help­ing the Amer­i­can peo­ple. The con­trast couldn’t be clear­er: Democ­rats will con­tin­ue the fight to end this pan­dem­ic and to build back better.”

“COVID-19 has tak­en so much from each of us over the past year. From par­ents, to stu­dents, to work­ers, to small busi­ness own­ers, I’ve heard from peo­ple across Wash­ing­ton state about the chal­lenges they’ve faced dur­ing this pan­dem­ic, and their clear need for help that meets the scale and scope of the cri­sis they are fac­ing,” said Sen­a­tor Pat­ty Mur­ray. “And I’ve heard from com­mu­ni­ties of col­or, peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties, and oth­ers who are too often left out or left behind about how the pan­dem­ic wors­ened inequities that already exist­ed in our country.”

Mur­ray — who has served as Wash­ing­ton’s senior Unit­ed States Sen­a­tor for over twen­ty years — recent­ly re-assumed the chair­man­ship of the Sen­ate HELP Com­mit­tee (Health, Edu­ca­tion, Labor & Pen­sions). A vet­er­an appro­pri­a­tor and the third-rank­ing Demo­c­ra­t­ic sen­a­tor in the cau­cus, Mur­ray under­stands the pow­er of invest­ment and pool­ing resources to get things done.

“After months of Repub­li­can oppo­si­tion, Democ­rats have passed a bill that acknowl­edges just how much peo­ple across this coun­try are hurt­ing right now, and pro­vides them with relief that begins to meet this moment.”

“A bill that puts mon­ey in fam­i­lies’ pock­ets, that helps work­ers get through unem­ploy­ment, that gives our schools the resources they need to safe­ly re-open, that will help us get shots in arms to end the pan­dem­ic fast and equi­tably, that gives our state, local, and Trib­al gov­ern­ments the resources they need to con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing essen­tial ser­vices, and so much more.”

“While this is a big step towards mak­ing sure that we make it through the pan­dem­ic and come out on the oth­er side of this cri­sis ready to bounce back and build a fair­er and more inclu­sive coun­try, it will not be the last step we take. And as a voice for our state in the Sen­ate, I will con­tin­ue lis­ten­ing to peo­ple across Wash­ing­ton state and work­ing to get them what they need.”

“Democ­rats promised the Amer­i­can peo­ple big, bold action on COVID relief, and we just deliv­ered on that promise. Elec­tions mat­ter,” tweet­ed Ore­gon’s senior Unit­ed States Sen­a­tor Ron Wyden fol­low­ing the vote on final passage.

Sen­a­tor Maria Cantwell of Wash­ing­ton cel­e­brat­ed the pro­pos­al’s inclu­sion of fund­ing to expand broad­band Inter­net access to more Americans.

“12 mil­lion school kids still don’t have access to ade­quate broad­band for remote learn­ing. This bill pro­vides $7 bil­lion to the Fed­er­al Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion for schools and libraries to pro­vide broad­band con­nec­tiv­i­ty for help­ing stu­dents learn at home,” said Sen­a­tor Cantwell in a state­ment. “I want to thank Sen­a­tor Markey for his tire­less efforts to close the home­work gap.”

“Through­out this pan­dem­ic, we have asked our stu­dents to shoul­der an enor­mous bur­den and con­tin­ue their edu­ca­tion from home,” said Sen­a­tor Markey, the junior Unit­ed States Sen­a­tor from Massachusetts.

“The fund­ing includ­ed in this relief pack­age for K‑12 dis­tance learn­ing will final­ly pro­vide all our chil­dren with the tech­nol­o­gy and tools to set them up for suc­cess and ensure they can con­tin­ue their stud­ies from home. This fund­ing will help ensure that the ‘home­work gap’ does not grow into a dam­ag­ing learn­ing and oppor­tu­ni­ty gap for our chil­dren, par­tic­u­lar­ly those who live in com­mu­ni­ties of col­or, low-income house­holds, and rur­al areas.”

As not­ed above, the Sen­ate’s ver­sion of the Amer­i­can Res­cue Plan is sig­nif­i­cant­ly weak­er than the House­’s ver­sion. NPI is extreme­ly dis­ap­point­ed that eight Demo­c­ra­t­ic sen­a­tors vot­ed against Sen­a­tor Bernie Sanders’ min­i­mum wage increase amend­ment ear­li­er this week. Work­ing fam­i­lies need a pay boost.

No one can live on $7.25 an hour, the cur­rent fed­er­al min­i­mum wage. Every Demo­c­ra­t­ic sen­a­tor should have rec­og­nized that and vot­ed for the amendment.

Although the Amer­i­can Res­cue Plan has got­ten weak­er, instead of stronger, it is still wor­thy of pas­sage. It will now be up to House lead­er­ship to decide whether to con­cur with the Sen­ate changes or insist on fur­ther nego­ti­a­tions to deter­mine what should be in the final ver­sion. House Speak­er Nan­cy Pelosi is a vet­er­an vote counter who knows how to take the pulse of her cau­cus, and is no doubt already at work at this very moment plan­ning the House­’s next moves.

“Today is a day of great progress and promise for the Amer­i­can peo­ple, as the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Sen­ate has passed Pres­i­dent Biden’s Amer­i­can Res­cue Plan to save lives and liveli­hoods,” said Pelosi in a state­ment fol­low­ing the vote.

“The House now hopes to have a bipar­ti­san vote on this life-sav­ing leg­is­la­tion and urges Repub­li­cans to join us in recog­ni­tion of the dev­as­tat­ing real­i­ty of this vicious virus and eco­nom­ic cri­sis and of the need for deci­sive action.”

This post will be updat­ed with addi­tion­al reac­tions as we get them.

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