After marathon session and Manchin’s antics, Senate passes American Rescue Plan

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The Democratic amendment from Sen. Ron Wyden gives unemployed people the $300/week federal boost to their regular checks through Sept. 6. The agreement that he had secured with leadership and the White House would have added another month onto that, ending in the first week of October. Critically, though, Wyden prevailed on making sure that the first $10,200 in UI received in 2020 will be tax-free, meaning people won’t be hit with surprise tax bills. Manchin did secure means testing on that—it will only apply to people with less than $150,000 in income for 2020. Importantly, though, even with the reduction in weekly benefits, the official poverty rate drops from 12.3% to 8.3% under Democratic plan, according to experts.

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman was the Republican luring Manchin into the fold, and his efforts revealed exactly what Republicans really think about tax cuts. Namely, they should only go to the wealthy. “Suddenly, if you’re on unemployment insurance you don’t have to pay taxes. But if you’re working, you do have to pay taxes. How does that work?” Portman said during the debate on the Democrats’ amendment. This is the only tax cut Republicans will ever oppose—one that actually helps working Americans, Wyden pointed out in response. “The party that claims to want to help workers on their taxes,” he rejoined, “won’t lift a finger.”

That issue finally worked out, the Senate got to work on a variety of Republican poison-pill amendments, after rejecting a bid by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to adjourn the Senate for the night. Republicans are short one vote in this process, as Alaska Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan had to fly home for a family emergency. That gives Vice President Kamala Harris a break; she has not been needed to break ties on any amendments.

Out of the nearly 600 Republican amendments, only a fraction were brought to the floor and most were defeated. Sen. Susan Collins tried to replace the entire bill with her $650 billion proposal and failed; oddly, Sen. Josh Hawley voted with Democrats on that one. Sen. Marco Rubio tried to tie school funding to reopening for in-person instruction, and failed. An alternative amendment from Democrat Sen. Maggie Hassan was adopted, requiring that elementary and secondary schools that receive aid release their plans for a “safe return to in-person instruction” within 30 days of receiving the funds.

The worst poison came from freshman Republican Tommy Tuberville, an anti-trans effort that would have stripped federal funding to “(s)tates, local educational agencies, and institutions of higher education that permit any student whose biological sex is male to participate in an athletic program or activity designed for women or girls.” It required 60 votes, but failed on party lines anyway—with two exceptions: Manchin voted for it, Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski against. Another attempt from Sen. Ted Cruz to bar undocumented immigrants from getting survival checks failed, with Democrats holding together against him.

Those survival checks, by the way, have not been altered from the last agreement Democrats came to: $1,400 one-time payment to everyone, adults and children, including adult dependents; people making up to $75,000/annually, $150,000 for couples filing jointly, receive the full payments, cutting off at $80,000 for single people, $160,000 for couples. That is based on 2019 income for those who have not filed their 2020 returns yet, so if you had a big loss of income in 2020, get your taxes filed.

The Senate’s bill will have to go back to the House for another vote, as it has been changed pretty substantially from that version.





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