WASHINGTON — The Senate reached an agreement Thursday to hold votes aimed at avoiding an economically catastrophic rail strike, one day after the House approved such a measure.
The chamber decided to hold three votes in succession, all requiring 60 votes for approval. The Senate typically takes days of procedural votes to pass a bill, but lawmakers reached unanimous agreement in this case to vote within minutes.
The first vote was an amendment by Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, that would extend the “cooling off period” giving the relevant parties an extra 60 days beyond the Dec. 8 deadline to keep negotiating an agreement between unions and rail operators. That amendment failed on a 26-69 vote.
Then, the Senate will 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 agreement.
And finally, the Senate will vote to impose the tentative agreement from September to avert a strike — this is legislation that has already been passed by the House and would head to the president’s desk if approved by the Senate. It was brokered by the White House but not all the unions involved support it.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer urged the chamber to approve the paid sick leave amendment and the House deal because not doing so “would be extremely damaging to the country.”
The House on Wednesday passed the tentative agreement, 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 deal is expected to pass. If that happens, it can go straight to President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature.
At a joint press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron at the White House, Biden defended the deal despite its lack of paid leave coverage that some Democrats were demanding, blaming Republicans for voting against it.
The president said he’ll continue to fight for paid leave after the agreement is approved by Congress and a rail strike is averted.
“I think we’re gonna get it done, but not within this agreement,” he said. “We’re going to avoid the rail strike, keep the rails running, keep things moving, and we’re gonna go back and we’re gonna get paid leave not just for rail workers, but for all workers.”