Democrats break COVID-19 impasse with deal on jobless benefits

Senate Democrats reached a deal on unemployment payments on Friday evening after an hours-long delay snagged the nearly $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill.

Democrats will offer a proposal to provide a $300 per week unemployment payment through Sept. 6, according to a Democratic aide. The deal would also make the first $10,200 of benefits non-taxable for households with an income less than $150,000.

The deal comes as the Senate has been stuck in limbo for hours as Democrats tried to craft an agreement that could get 50 votes within the caucus. The deal could let the Senate quickly resume its marathon voting session, known as a vote-a-rama, after it was paused following just one vote on whether to include a minimum wage hike. 

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Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinWhy Biden's Interior Department isn't shutting down oil and gas Overnight Energy: Senate panel advances controversial public lands nominee | Nevada Democrat introduces bill requiring feds to develop fire management plan | NJ requiring public water systems to replace lead pipes in 10 years Transit funding, broadband holding up infrastructure deal MORE (D-W.Va.), who was at the center of the hours-long holdup, threw his support behind the deal.

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

"Those making less than $150,000 and receiving unemployment will be eligible for a $10,200 tax break. Unemployment benefits will be extended through the end of August," he added.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenGOP, business groups snipe at Biden restaurant remarks On The Money: Senate braces for nasty debt ceiling fight | Democrats pushing for changes to bipartisan deal | Housing prices hit new high in June Top Democrat presses IRS for improvements to web tool on child tax credit MORE (D-Ore.) was more cautious, saying that he didn’t want to get ahead of himself after the earlier setback, but that “we’ve made a lot of progress.”

Wyden said the agreement reached Friday evening would let Congress "avoid the August cliff," a reference to concerns that lawmakers would set the expiration for the payments while they were in the middle of a scheduled August recess. 

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Under the House bill, Congress would have given a $400 per week payment but had it expire at the end of August, when members are not expected to be in town. 

The deal comes after the Senate effectively paused for roughly eight hours as Democrats tried to get buy-in from Manchin. Democrats started a vote on Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersPoll: 73 percent of Democratic voters would consider voting for Biden in the 2024 primary Overnight Defense: US launches another airstrike in Somalia | Amendment to expand Pentagon recusal period added to NDAA | No. 2 State Dept. official to lead nuclear talks with Russia US launches second Somalia strike in week MORE's (I-Vt.) minimum wage amendment at 11:03 a.m., with the vote remaining open well into the evening.

It marked a chaotic start to the debate over the coronavirus bill, which Democrats hope to pass this weekend. 

Democrats had initially announced on Friday that they had an agreement. Under that initial deal, Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperFrustration builds as infrastructure talks drag Democrats pushing for changes to bipartisan infrastructure deal Transit funding, broadband holding up infrastructure deal MORE (D-Del.) was offering an amendment that would provide the $300 per week payment until early October. It also made the first $10,200 non-taxable but did not put a cap on the income for households that could qualify. 

Democrats had characterized Carper's amendment as a deal between moderate and progressive factions, underscoring the balancing act of their narrow majority. In the narrow 50-50 majority, Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerMcConnell pushes vaccines, but GOP muddles his message Biden administration stokes frustration over Canada Schumer blasts McCarthy for picking people who 'supported the big lie' for Jan. 6 panel MORE (D-N.Y.) needed every member of his caucus to support an agreement on unemployment payments in order for it to get into the bill, which allows Manchin or another senator to make eleventh-hour demands. 

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But it quickly became clear that Democrats had rolled out the deal too quickly and without a key vote locked down: Manchin, the most conservative member of the caucus. 

Republican senators said they thought they had Manchin's support for a competing GOP amendment from Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanKey Biden ally OK with dropping transit from infrastructure package Frustration builds as infrastructure talks drag Hillicon Valley: Democrats introduce bill to hold platforms accountable for misinformation during health crises | Website outages hit Olympics, Amazon and major banks MORE (R-Ohio) that would have provided a federal unemployment payment of $300 per week though mid-July. 

“I feel bad for Joe Manchin. I hope the Geneva Convention applies,” Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneFrustration builds as infrastructure talks drag On The Money: Senate braces for nasty debt ceiling fight | Democrats pushing for changes to bipartisan deal | Housing prices hit new high in June Transit funding, broadband holding up infrastructure deal MORE (S.D.), the Senate GOP whip, told reporters, predicting that all 50 GOP senators would support Portman’s proposal if Manchin would vote for it. 

Manchin was spotted huddling on the floor with Portman. He was also surrounded by Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterBipartisan group says it's still on track after setback on Senate floor GOP blocks infrastructure debate as negotiators near deal GOP negotiators say they'll vote to start infrastructure debate next week MORE (Mont.), Catherine Cortez MastoCatherine Marie Cortez MastoOvernight Energy: Senate panel advances controversial public lands nominee | Nevada Democrat introduces bill requiring feds to develop fire management plan | NJ requiring public water systems to replace lead pipes in 10 years Nevada Democrat introduces bill requiring feds to develop fire management plan Six takeaways: What the FEC reports tell us about the midterm elections MORE (Nev.) and Democratic Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinNew York gun rights case before Supreme Court with massive consequences  Schumer leaves door open for second vote on bipartisan infrastructure deal Bipartisan group says it's still on track after setback on Senate floor MORE (Ill.). 

As the hours dragged on, senators told The Hill that President BidenJoe BidenBiden authorizes up to 0M for Afghan refugees Poll: 73 percent of Democratic voters would consider voting for Biden in the 2024 primary Biden flexes presidential muscle on campaign trail with Virginia's McAuliffe MORE was actively calling Manchin to discuss the unemployment language with him. One senator told The Hill that by mid-afternoon they had already been on the phone two or three times. Manchin, asked about the comments, declined to comment.

But Manchin also kept his colleagues guessing, with Durbin telling reporters hours into the standoff that he didn’t ultimately know how Manchin would come down. 

Once the Senate moves forward, Wyden said that they would vote on both the Democratic deal and Portman's amendment.

"I think it's going to come down to two choices for senators, there's a Portman amendment. This bill sets an arbitrary date," Wyden said. "The other proposal will be the Carper-Wyden proposal ... and it's going to avoid the August cliff." 

Updated: 9:02 p.m.