March 5, 2021 Covid-19 stimulus bill updates

By Melissa Macaya, Meg Wagner and Melissa Mahtani, CNN

Updated 9:02 a.m. ET, March 6, 2021
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8:01 p.m. ET, March 5, 2021

A deal on a way forward will be announced soon, source says

From CNN's Manu Raju


A source familiar tells CNN that a deal about the path forward on the Covid-19 stimulus bill is coming soon.

Under a final agreement accepted by Sen. Joe Manchin, Senate Democrats will now offer an amendment to extend the enhanced Unemployment Insurance program through September 6 at $300 a week, according to a Democratic aide with knowledge of the negotiations. 

The House-passed bill would have provided the benefit through August 29. 

The Senate has been at a standstill for hours after Manchin, a moderate Democrat, signaled he could back a GOP plan on jobless benefits.

This agreement also provides tax relief to workers who received unemployment insurance compensation by making the first $10,200 of unemployment benefits non-taxable for the first time to prevent surprise bills for the unemployed at end of year, which was not in the House-passed legislation. This provision applies only to households with incomes under $150k.

The agreement also extends tax rules regarding excess business loss limitations for one additional year, through 2026.

9:43 p.m. ET, March 5, 2021

Remember: Even if the Senate passes the bill, it will have to go back to the House before Biden can sign it

The Senate has been stalled for hours as lawmakers consider President Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus package.

Republicans are urging moderate Democrat Joe Manchin to support their less generous plan on jobless benefits, and his party leaders urged Manchin to support the amendment backed by the White House.

But even if the bill eventually passes in the Senate, it will have to go back to the House of Representatives for another vote next week before it can proceed to Biden's desk to be signed into law.

That's because the bill has undergone some major changes in the Senate after the House passed the it last week.

While much of the Senate legislation largely mirrors the package approved by the House and laid out by President Biden in January, lawmakers made several changes throughout the legislation. Two were particularly notable — narrowing eligibility for the stimulus checks and nixing an increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

7:27 p.m. ET, March 5, 2021

Manchin is now in the Senate majority leader's office

From CNN's Manu Raju, Ted Barrett and Ryan Nobles 

Sen. Joe Manchin — who was assigned to preside in the Senate from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. ET — was just suddenly replaced with Sen. Patty Murray.  

He then headed directly to Sen. Chuck Schumer’s office where he was greeted by senior staffers to the majority leader and brought inside. 

The Senate has been stalled for hours after Manchin, a moderate Democrat from West Virginia, signaled to Republicans he could support a less-generous GOP plan extending enhanced benefits for the unemployed.

Senate Democrats have been working to pass President Biden's massive $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill.

7:22 p.m. ET, March 5, 2021

Manchin refuses to comment on where things stand

From CNN's Ted Barrett and Manu Raju

Win McNamee/Getty Images/FILE
Win McNamee/Getty Images/FILE

Sen. Joe Manchin repeatedly refused to comment on where things stood when asked by CNN moments ago.

"No comments, no comments. No comments. No comments, guys," he said.

The Senate — which is working to pass a Covid-19 stimulus bill — has been at a standstill for hours after Manchin signaled he could back a GOP plan on jobless benefits.

Manchin today wouldn't comment on whether President Biden has called him — or why the White House didn't know his position ahead of time.

He also wouldn't say if he would vote for both the Democratic amendment and the GOP amendment, or if there was a third amendment they were working on. Manchin also would not comment on if he supports the idea of allowing the first $10,200 of jobless benefits to be deducted from an individual's taxes — a key sticking point.

"There's too much good negotiation, guys," he said.

A Democratic senator separately told CNN that Biden has spoken with Manchin today.

6:48 p.m. ET, March 5, 2021

The Senate is at a standstill as Democrats push for Covid-19 relief. Here's what we know right now.

The Senate, which is working to pass a Covid-19 stimulus bill, has been at a standstill for hours after one Democrat, the moderate Sen. Joe Manchin, signaled he could back a GOP plan on jobless benefits.

If you're just tuning in now, here's where things stand:

  • What the Senate is considering: Senate Democrats are racing to pass President Biden's massive $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill. The effort kicked into high gear yesterday when senators voted to open debate. But Republicans opposed to the legislation have been taking steps to draw out the process, starting with forcing the 628-page bill to be read aloud.
  • The Senate expected this to be a late night, even before the stall: The Senate had braced for a series of politically tough amendment votes that will stretch late into the night and into Saturday. The long series of amendment votes, known as a vote-a-rama, is a Senate tradition that the minority party uses to put members of the majority on the record on controversial issues in an effort to make changes to a bill that they oppose.
  • The amendment that's stalling things: Ohio GOP Sen. Rob Portman's proposal — the one Manchin signaled he would back — would give an additional $300 per week through July to the unemployed. Democrats had sought to give that amount through September, and also make up to $10,200 of unemployment benefits tax free. The underlying relief bill would extend jobless benefits at $400 per week through August.

6:32 p.m. ET, March 5, 2021

Key Democratic senator tells top Republican: "We're stuck"

From CNN's Manu Raju and Ted Barrett 

US Sen. John Cornyn, left, talks with Sen. Tom Carper in a corridor near the Senate chamber.
US Sen. John Cornyn, left, talks with Sen. Tom Carper in a corridor near the Senate chamber. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Sen. Tom Carper is the lead sponsor of the amendment to extend jobless benefits that Democratic leaders are furiously trying to get Sen. Joe Manchin to support. And Carper just had a conversation with Sen. John Cornyn about where things stand as the chamber has been stalled for six hours.

Cornyn told CNN that Carper just said to him:

"We're stuck. And I don't know what it's going to take to get unstuck."

Cornyn added: "It sounds like a box canyon. I don't know why you put a bill on the floor and have a vote on something and you didn't know how the vote is going to turn out. That's kind of like whipping 101." 

Cornyn added that he's heard separately that Manchin may vote for the GOP alternative, which has been offered by Sen. Rob Portman, in addition to the Carper amendment. That means both would likely be adopted. It's unclear though which proposal would take precedence.

"I don't know how you do that, which would take precedence over the other," he said.

Carper refused to comment on where things stand, only telling CNN: "It's gotta get done."

The Carper amendment would codify a deal reached between the White House and Democratic leaders to extend jobless benefits at $300 a week through September. It would also ensure that the first $10,200 of jobless benefits would not be taxed.

The Portman amendment does not have the tax-free provision and would extend $300 in weekly jobless benefits through July 18. 

6:00 p.m. ET, March 5, 2021

GOP senators accuse Democrats of denying bipartisanship in standoff over relief bill

From CNN's Ryan Nobles

From left, US Sens. Joni Ernst, Lindsey Graham, Roy Blunt and Cindy Hyde-Smith hold a news conference at the Capitol on Friday.
From left, US Sens. Joni Ernst, Lindsey Graham, Roy Blunt and Cindy Hyde-Smith hold a news conference at the Capitol on Friday. Alex Wong/Getty Images

A group of Republican senators called out their fellow Democrats, President Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for being unwilling to allow a vote on what they called a bipartisan amendment that would change the standards for unemployment benefits in the Covid-19 relief package. 

The senators claimed that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer was stalling progress on the vote because there were enough Democrats willing to cross party lines and vote on the GOP proposal instead of the Democratic version.  

“We believe we have some Democrats who read the bill yesterday and found some things they didn't like sat down with some Republicans to find a better way. And the result is, we've done nothing for four hours and 20 minutes,” Senator Lindsay Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, said. He then accused Biden of being part of the hold up. “President Biden, is this the new way of doing business? There's nothing new about this. He's been on the phone trying to talk democrats out of working with Republicans to change the unemployment insurance benefits.”

Senate Minority Whip John Thune, a Republican from South Dakota, claimed there could be multiple Democrats willing to support the amendment, proposed by Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman, but Schumer was preventing the vote from being taken. He also claimed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had warned Democratic senators that if the Portman amendment is included, the package will not pass the House.  

“Because there was an amendment that we were prepared to offer they actually had bipartisan support. The Democrats have gone back behind closed doors, and as Senator Graham pointed out, tried to get the President on the line to pressure a couple of people not to work with Republicans.” 

Republican Sens. Joni Ernst and Roy Blunt pointed to the prior successful bills passed to deliver Covid-19 relief prior to Democrats taking control of the House, Senate and White House and said they were disappointed this process had become so partisan.  

“Today we are witnessing a very very unfortunate exercise in partisanship exactly what President Biden preached against on his inauguration day, stating that he would be a president for all Americans. And that bipartisanship would prevail. And yet, we have seen absolutely none of that,” said Ernst. 

5:47 p.m. ET, March 5, 2021

GOP senator who left DC is going to his father-in-law's funeral

From CNN's Manu Raju and Kristin Wilson  

Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images/File
Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images/File

GOP Sen. Dan Sullivan left Washington for Alaska earlier today due to the death of his father-in-law. 

His office released a statement saying, "Due to the recent passing of his father-in-law, Senator Sullivan had to depart on a Friday afternoon flight to make it back to Fairbanks, Alaska in time for the funeral."   

The statement also says, "Senator Sullivan intended to vote against final passage of the bill and made his opposition clear in a statement on Thursday, after his vote against the motion to proceed with consideration of the bill."

Before leaving, Sullivan did vote Friday against the minimum wage amendment put forward by Sen. Bernie Sanders.  

His departure adds to the challenges facing the GOP in trying to delay and amend the Covid-19 relief bill championed by the White House and currently stalled in the Senate. 

5:06 p.m. ET, March 5, 2021

Democratic leaders are "trying to find common ground" with senator who could back GOP proposal

From CNN's Ted Barrett 

US Sen. Joe Manchin is seen at the Capitol on Friday.
US Sen. Joe Manchin is seen at the Capitol on Friday. Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA

Democratic leaders are “trying to find some common ground” with Sen. Joe Manchin, who is balking at supporting a fresh unemployment insurance proposal offered by Democrats as part of the Covid-19 relief bill that is on the floor now, according to Democratic Whip Dick Durbin. 

Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, may back a Republican proposal from Sen. Rob Portman that is not as generous as the Democratic plan but that also would not cause as much government debt. Durbin said it’s not clear if they could find a compromise between the two proposals and pass that.

Manchin’s vote is critical in the 50-50 Senate, and Durbin said he did not know Manchin’s current position on the two bills, indicating he had not talked to him directly in about two hours.

Durbin also said it’s unclear if House Democrats would pass the Portman proposal if it was adopted by the Senate and sent back to the House for final approval.

“That’s always the final calculation, but I can’t say,” Durbin said.