Senate deal puts Covid relief back on track - RTHK
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Senate deal puts Covid relief back on track

2021-03-06 HKT 10:35
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  • Centrist Democrat Joe Manchin agreed to a deal on US President Joe Biden's relief plans. File photo: Reuters
    Centrist Democrat Joe Manchin agreed to a deal on US President Joe Biden's relief plans. File photo: Reuters
The US Senate broke a logjam late Friday when a centrist Democrat compromised on a key provision of the Covid relief package, setting the US$1.9 trillion bill on a likely path to passage.

Democrats had struggled to keep Senator Joe Manchin's support for expanded unemployment aid in the sprawling measure, and he threatened to side with Republicans in the evenly divided chamber.

But the deal, which reduced the jobless benefits, kept Manchin on board and allowed action to resume in the Senate as it navigates toward passage of US President Joe Biden's top legislative priority sometime this weekend.

Manchin, keen on more fiscal restraint than was evident in the Biden package, was flexing his political muscle, rejecting an amendment that would increase weekly additional unemployment benefits from US$300 to US$400, and extending them to the end of August.

It also provides for tax breaks of up to US$10,200 for those receiving unemployment, but only families making less than US$150,000.

Without passage of the rescue package, the benefits will expire on March 14 for millions of Americans.

"We have reached a compromise that enables the economy to rebound quickly while also protecting those receiving unemployment benefits from being hit with (an) unexpected tax bill next year," Manchin said in a statement.

Biden supports this compromise, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.

"Most importantly, this agreement allows us to move forward on the urgently needed American Rescue Plan, with US$1,400 relief checks, funding we need to finish the vaccine rollout, open our schools, help those suffering from the pandemic, and more," she said in a statement Friday evening.

With the impasse over, a lengthy amendment process known as a "vote-a-rama" was set to resume, with votes on potentially dozens of amendments filed by members of both parties.

The daunting process was likely to carry into the early hours of Saturday or beyond, especially given Friday's nine-hour delay.

Democrats are in control of a Senate that is deadlocked 50-50, so any defections within the party could kill the bill. In the event of a tie, Vice-President Kamala Harris casts the deciding vote. (AFP)