Senate braces for ‘God-awful,’ ‘stupid’ session ahead of COVID-19 relief vote

Senators on Friday are bracing for an hours-long marathon session as Democrats race to pass a sweeping coronavirus relief bill. 

The Senate will start vote-a-rama at noon, a free-wheeling session where any senator will be able to force a vote on a potential change to the nearly $1.9 trillion bill. 

“This … is a chaotic process to start with, and it’s certainly working out that way,” said Sen. (R-S.D.). 

Sen. (D-Ill.) described the hectic session as “god-awful” and dilatory given that Senate Democrats are expected to have the votes to pass the coronavirus bill — it’s just a question of when.

“It will come to an end. I don[‘t know if it will be one day or five days. … It’s a total waste of time. I wish we could change it,” Durbin said.

Sen. (R-S.C.) said vote-a-rama allows senators to force votes, something they aren’t normally able to do, but added that it was also “stupid.”

The session comes after the Senate was in session until early Friday morning after Sen. (R-Wis.) forced the floor staff to read the entirety of the 628-page Senate bill after it was unveiled on Thursday afternoon. 

“The Senate’s going to take a lot of votes, but we are going to power through and finish this bill however long it takes,” Senate Majority Leader (D-N.Y.) said on Friday morning, adding that he hoped Johnson “enjoyed his Thursday evening.” 

Though Johnson’s move kept the Senate in throughout the night, Democrats were able to shorten what was expected to be 20 hours of debate time down to three hours on Friday morning. 

How long the vote-a-rama will last is anyone’s guess. Johnson, who has not yet announced if he will run for reelection in 2022, had been trying to organize “shifts” of GOP senators who would filter on and off the Senate floor to keep forcing votes on potentially hundreds of amendments.

Sen. (R-N.D.) predicted that the Senate’s debate would at least stretch into the weekend.

“I expect some pretty long days,” he said. “It really will be a test of wills.”

The most roll call votes that have happened during a vote-a-rama in recent history is 44, according to records from the Senate secretary’s office.

The Senate bill largely mirrors a bill that passed the House last weekend. But it includes a few significant changes including stripping out language to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour and lowering the cutoff for receiving a stimulus check to $80,000 for individuals and $160,000 for couples.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman (I-Vt.) will offer an amendment to add the minimum wage language back into the bill. It will be the first amendment that the Senate votes on, but because it requires 60 votes it will fall short.

In order to get the bill through the Senate without additional changes, Schumer will need to hold his entire caucus together. Most amendments are expected to only need a simple majority, meaning that for Republicans to make changes to the bill they would only need to pick up one Democratic senator.

Republicans were able to make several changes to a budget resolution earlier this year including support for the Keystone pipeline and language preventing stimulus checks for undocumented immigrants, though Democrats voted to strip out those two changes at the very end.

Republicans are expected to file hundreds of amendments, though staffers have estimated that only dozens would actually get roll call votes during the Senate session.

Republicans are expected to try to water down language on who receives a stimulus check, including lowering the income level for getting a full $1,400 check. An amendment from Sen. (R-Ind.), for example, would change the ceiling for getting the full payment to $50,000 from $75,000.

Republicans are also hoping to peel off Democratic votes for lowering the weekly unemployment payment from $400 per week to $300 per week. Democrats and the White House signed off on a deal earlier this week to provide $400 per week through August, keeping the House language.

“I think we’re united on that and it sounds like some Democrats as well,” said Sen. (R-S.D.).

But several centrist Democrats have voiced support for lowering that amount to $300 per week, making it a potential pressure point during Friday’s marathon session.

“I’ve been very supportive of $300, staying at $300,” Sen. (D-W.Va.), considered a vote to watch, told reporters this week. 

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