WASHINGTON — The Senate reached an agreement Thursday to hold votes aimed at avoiding an economically catastrophic rail strike, a day after the House approved such a measure.
The chamber decided to hold three successive votes, all requiring 60 votes for approval. The Senate usually takes days of procedural votes to pass a bill, but lawmakers reached a unanimous agreement in this case to vote in a matter of minutes.
The first vote was on an amendment by Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, that would extend the “cooling-off period” by giving relevant parties an additional 60 days beyond the December 8 deadline to continue negotiating an agreement between the unions and railway operators. That amendment failed by a vote of 26-69.
The Senate will then vote on an amendment, championed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Democrats to include seven days of paid sick leave for rail workers as part of the deal.
And finally, the Senate will vote to impose September’s tentative deal to avoid a strike: This is legislation that has already passed the House and would head to the president’s desk if approved by the Senate. It was negotiated by the White House but not all the unions involved support it.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer urged the House to pass the paid sick leave amendment and the House agreement because not to do so “would be extremely damaging to the country.”
The House approved the tentative agreement Wednesday, along with a separate measure adding seven days of paid sick leave.
In the Senate, the first two votes are expected to fail and the House agreement to be approved. If that happens, you can go directly to President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature.
In a joint news conference with French President Emmanuel Macron at the White House, Biden defended the deal despite the lack of coverage of paid leave that some Democrats demanded, blaming Republicans for voting against it.
The president said he will continue to fight for paid vacation after Congress passes the deal and a rail strike is averted.
“I think we will get it done, but not within this deal,” he said. “We’re going to prevent the rail strike, keep the rails running, keep things moving, and we’re going to come back and get paid leave not just for rail workers, but for all workers.”