After a marathon debate and vote-a-rama, which included a historic 11 hour and 50-minute vote on a minimum wage amendment, the upper chamber on March 6 voted to pass a $1.9 trillion dollar COVID-19 relief bill. Because one GOP senator, Dan Sullivan, had to return to Alaska to attend a family funeral, the bill was passed by a 50-49 margin. Sullivan’s absence, though, merely hastened the inevitable outcome: had he not been called home, Kamala Harris would have cast a deciding vote, assuring the bill’s passage.
The negotiations, objections, and compromises – such as they were – are now history, for better or worse. The bill will be returned to the House of Representatives for final approval before heading to the Oval Office. For Democrats, the main obstacle turned out to be an objection from one of their own; Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV).
With the Senate evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, every vote counts for both sides. Just one member crossing the aisle in either direction determines the fate of any bill. Thus, a moderate Democrat like Manchin suddenly finds himself wielding enormous influence, even as he is seen increasingly as a relic in a party that moves ever further left.
The minimum wage amendment, proposed by Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and fought for tooth and nail by the Democratic Party’s progressive wing, was shot down Friday when seven Democrats and one Independent senator voted with Republicans to uphold a procedural objection to the measure.
Manchin indicated his willingness to support a Republican amendment that would have reduced the amount paid in supplemental unemployment benefits from $400 to $300. A compromise was finally reached after the intervention of Joe Biden himself and the Senate voted on the relief package shortly after noon on March 6.
Before the vote, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said: “The Senate has never spent $2 trillion in a more haphazard way or through a less rigorous process.”