Who needs Republicans like Sen. Ron Johnson to sabotage President Joe Biden's first major and absolutely critical proposal when Democrats have their very own Joe Manchin? The West Virginia senator, for some unknown reason, has ground the entire process to a halt because he doesn't want people who have lost their jobs and are surviving on unemployment insurance (UI) to be saved from having to pay taxes on those benefits or have the peace of mind of knowing that those benefits will be there for them into the fall. Is it his ego? Does he hate the unemployed? Does he want attention? Who knows? What we do know is that he is endangering everything.
First, Democratic leadership caved to him on the amount of extra benefits people would be getting, reducing it from $400/week to $300/week. In order to compensate for that, they negotiated with the White House—President Biden signed off on this—and all the committee chairs to add in a month of benefits so that they last until the first week of October, and to waive the first $10,200 of UI people received this year so they aren't subject to federal income taxes and won't be stuck with a surprise tax bill. The extension until Oct. 3 is critical, because the expiration date in the House bill—the expiration date Manchin apparently wants—is in August, when Congress will be on recess. "Having an unnecessary cliff for unemployed workers is not good policy," Sen. Tom Carper, who coordinated the amendment, said in a statement to HuffPost. "We've found a way to avoid that and ensure that the millions of Americans who are still struggling to find work will see an immediate benefit before Tax Day this year."
Now Manchin is negotiating with Republicans Rob Portman and John Thune to see if he'll jump on their amendment, which would keep the boost and $300/week AND end the program on July 18. JULY 18! Because the Senate is split 50-50, Manchin is the key swing vote, and if he chooses to vote with Republicans, he blows the whole goddamned thing up. The Senate would have to have to go back to the drawing board on UI with Biden and with the House. Meanwhile, March 14 is when the current extension of UI ends, meaning millions of people are at risk of losing their entire benefit. "If it gets to a certain level it may require renegotiating with the House and the White House and then it has to come back to the Senate. And that's not a desirable outcome," Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat said. "The clock's ticking, so timing is pretty important."
Also at risk is the entire $1.88 trillion package Daily Kos detailed previously:
It includes $350 billion for state, local, and tribal governments to help cover their budget shortfalls resulting from a year of pandemic, but makes some changes. That funding was altered from the original bill to carve out $10 billion for states to fund "critical capital project," which would include expanding broadband access. […] It has $50 billion for vaccine distribution, and ongoing testing and tracing to try to control the virus. It also sets aside $8.5 billion for rural health. There's a tremendous gift to all the people who've lost their jobs but kept their health coverage under COBRA—a massively expensive proposition for people having to pay their part as well as the employer part of their premiums. This bill will fully subsidize their premiums.
There's $200 billion for that all-important school reopening, getting schools prepared to have students return safely. The changes also dedicate $2.75 billion from the pot of K-12 schools to go to private schools that have a "significant percentage" of low-income students. It also sets aside $3 billion for technology in education, and $1.25 billion each for after school and summer school programs. It gives some help to college students and graduates—anyone who has their loans forgiven in the next five years won't have to pay taxes on the loan forgiveness. […] There's $58 billion to boost pension funds that have taken major hits in the past year; $25 billion for restaurants and bars; $30 billion in housing assistance; and the hike in the child tax credit to $3,600 annually for children under six, and $3,000 for children 6-17, paid out monthly instead of as a tax credit at the end of the year. The bill as it stands could cut child poverty in half, just this year.
Meanwhile, the Senate is in a holding pattern, still technically on the first amendment of the day. Voting for that, Sen. Bernie Sanders' minimum wage increase, started at 11 AM ET. There's still hours ahead of "vote-a-rama" where Republicans are seeking to bring potentially hundreds of amendments to try to poison the process. Until now, until Joe Manchin decided to become a raging asshole about the whole thing, that effort was certainly going to fail and all they would be able to achieve was delaying the inevitable.
Now? Now Republicans are crowing.
And now Republican Ron Johnson isn't the villain of the day.