The $1.9 trillion stimulus package proposed by Joe Biden is on the way to becoming law. The US senate passed by a strict partisan 50-49 vote a version of it that was different from what the House of Representatives passed earlier in the week. One Republican senator was absent which meant that vice-president Kamala Harris did not have to cast a tie-breaking vote. Republicans delayed the process as much as they could by introducing amendment after amendment that was defeated, with one senator even invoking a rule that resulted in aides reading aloud the entire text of the 628 page bill, a futile process whose only effect was to waste 11 hours of time.
The House now has to vote on the revised bill which it is expected to do so this coming week. Democrats wanted to have this become law before March 14th when the current unemployment benefits run out.
The bill aimed at combating the Covid-19 pandemic and reviving the US economy will provide direct payments of up to $1,400 to most Americans; extend federal unemployment benefits; rush money to state, local and tribal governments; and allot significant funding to vaccine distribution and testing.
The move to raise the federal minimum wage to $15/hour was stripped from the senate version because the parliamentarian ruled that it did not conform to the rules under which the reconciliation process could operate and which has to be used because other laws require 60 votes to overcome the inevitable Republican filibuster. Biden and the Democratic leadership could have forced this issue by overruling the parliamentarian or even firing her but they chose not to do that because eight Democratic senators joined all the Republicans in killing it. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia also forced a change that reduced the income level at which the $1400 payment would be phased out and reduced the amount of the unemployment benefits.
The marathon “vote-a-rama” session on amendments that preceded the final vote featured the longest vote in Senate history, just shy of 12 hours, on Friday, as Democrats scrambled to strike a deal with Manchin, a moderate who mounted a last-minute push to scale back unemployment benefits.
Bowing to Manchin, a compromise kept benefits at $300 a week instead of $400, as proposed by Biden and approved by the House. However, the benefits will be extended until October rather than August, and Democrats added a provision to provide up to $10,200 in tax relief for unemployed Americans.
This infuriates me. This change and lowering the income cap will reduce the cost to the bill by a minuscule amount but has a huge impact on the ordinary people who depend upon it. And a substantial majority of people supported the stimulus bill. West Virginia has a lot of struggling people and Manchin was reducing the assistance that many of them need.
This shows the importance of staking out a bold initial position, something that Democrats often fail to do. It cannot be that they are ignorant of this basic stance that every negotiation expert knows. They fail to do so when they don’t want major changes but want to act as if they do. So-called ‘moderates’ polish their moderate credentials by nickel-and-diming down any suggestion for spending so that they can boast how fiscally responsible they are. If Biden had started by proposing what was finally accepted, these ‘moderates’ would have bargained that down even further because in these types of negotiations, there are no magically occurring natural numbers that command universal acceptance. All of them are negotiable. If Biden had tried the Obama model with his health care and stimulus package back in 2009, and started with something that he thought Republicans would accept, he would have ended up with almost nothing. The Republicans simply want to block anything good that Democrats would get credit for. They don’t give a damn about the deficit or who gets hurt in the process. That is the reality.
Progressive are still pushing for more. Bernie Sanders says that he will raising the minimum wage issue again and Biden has promised to introduce a massive infrastructure bill that would put a lot of people to work as well as shoring up the scandalously decayed state of current infrastructure. Both are necessary.
Republicans have to get hammered with the message that they do not care about ordinary people of any political persuasion but only use them as props.
Seth Meyers explains why nibbling at the relief package makes no sense for Democrats.