Biden met with Democrats at their virtual caucus meeting, urging lawmakers to stay united. The party is fighting with disagreements about provisions in the bill, including the size of bonus jobless pay and whether to add a minimum wage hike.
“President Biden made his pitch today to our entire caucus, and he said we need to pass this bill and pass it soon,” Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, announced “That's what the American people sent us here to do, and we have to get America the help it needs.”
Democrats intend to proceed working into the evening to smooth over differences, among them an attempt by Sen. Joe Manchin to lower enhanced weekly unemployment benefits from $400 weekly to $300. Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, is key to passing the legislation: Democrats hold only 50 votes and cannot afford a single vote since Senate Republicans are likely to vote against it.
Senators are further discussing whether to cut out some of the $350 billion given to state and local governments and lead it to expanding broadband.
“I believe and my caucus believes that we need big, bold action, and we're going to figure out the best way to get big, bold action on a whole lot of fronts,” Schumer announced.
Manchin explained that the $400 in enhanced jobless pay will deter people from returning to work through a critical time when the economy is starting to reopen. Manchin said the unemployment benefits should not continue until nearly September, as is written in the bill. He proposed the end of June, when many people will have been vaccinated against the virus and businesses are starting to reopen.
“We want people to get back to work. We’re going to have a hard time getting people ready to go back in to keep the economy going,” Manchin said. “It’d be awful for the doors to open up and there’s no one working. You got a lot of customers, no one working. That’s the problem.”
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent and a socialist, announced he will present an amendment to add a $15 minimum wage mandate, even though Democratic leaders are resigned to addressing the minimum wage in future legislation and not in the spending package.