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What to watch for in the Senate’s grueling vote-a-rama

The Senate is weighing in on the minimum wage and unemployment insurance as it holds these votes.

Sen. Joe Manchin has pushed for the Covid-19 relief bill to be more targeted.
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The Senate’s latest “vote-a-rama” — the marathon session during which legislators consider amendments for a bill — has already revealed just how much Democrats are still fractured over the $15 minimum wage, and it’s just getting started.

Throughout Friday and likely early Saturday, senators will be considering potential changes to the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill in a slew of back-to-back votes. And in a procedural vote to waive objections to an amendment offered by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), which would raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 over the course of five years, eight of the chamber’s 50 Democrats voted against proceeding.

The final 42-58 breakdown on the amendment indicated that Sens. Joe Manchin (WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (AZ) were not alone among Democrats in their opposition to a $15 minimum wage, which was included in the House’s version of the stimulus but struck from the Senate’s after the parliamentarian ruled it couldn’t be included. This dynamic suggests a compromise with Republicans is the most likely option for potential changes to the federal standard in the near term. Democratic Sens. Jon Tester (MT), Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Maggie Hassan (NH), Angus King (ME), Tom Carper (DE), and Chris Coons (DE) also voted against advancing to a vote on the amendment.

This provision was the first of many lawmakers are poised to weigh in on late into the evening. As part of the budget reconciliation process, which enables the majority party to push through certain bills with just 51 votes, both parties have a chance to submit amendments in an attempt to shape the measure.

Often, a vote-a-rama includes a number of messaging votes intended to get senators on the record about more controversial subjects, so they can be used as future campaign fodder: In February when Democrats were passing an initial procedural hurdle in the budget reconciliation process, for example, Republicans forced Democrats to vote on packing the Supreme Court.

This particular vote-a-rama is poised to be a mix of these show votes and actual updates that could alter the stimulus package. Here’s what to expect from the ongoing marathon.

Key amendment votes to watch in the stimulus vote-a-rama

In the past, the longest vote-a-ramas have included roughly 40 amendments, and gone on for over 12 hours. Not all the amendments that parties prepare actually get voted on: In February, for example, Republicans said they had 400-some ready to go and the Senate ended up voting on 41.

This time, both parties are putting motions forward, and they can actually change the substance of the bill.

Democrats, for instance, will be proposing an amendment that reduces the amount of enhanced unemployment insurance from $400 a week to $300 a week, and makes up to $10,200 in unemployment aid non-taxable for households with under $150,000 in income. This measure would notably tweak the House bill and also extend these benefits through early September, instead of ending them in August. This change is among those resulting from pressure by Manchin, who has fought to make the relief bill more targeted — and it’s one that’s the result of last minute negotiations he forced Friday afternoon when he also signaled openness to an alternative Republican amendment.

Other amendments from Republicans, meanwhile, run the gamut and include efforts to prevent state and local funding, and support for medical providers, from going to organizations that provide abortions. Sens. Steve Daines (R-MT), James Lankford (R-OK), and Roger Wicker (R-MS) are among those looking to bar groups including Planned Parenthood from receiving stimulus funds, National Review reports.

Republicans have already said, too, that they broadly intend to drag out the vote-a-rama as much as possible in order to make Democrats uncomfortable and delay the passage of the Covid-19 relief package.

“I’m hoping for infinity. There are people talking about trying to set up a schedule and having it go on and on,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) told Politico this week.

Because of how many amendments Republicans aim to introduce, these votes are slated to go until Saturday morning, meaning a final vote on the budget bill will take place this weekend. Once senators vote on the legislation, the House will also have to approve the new version of the bill before it heads to President Joe Biden for his signature.

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