Democrats in the US Senate say they have resolved their differences over unemployment aid in President Joe Biden's $US1.9 trillion COVID-19 aid bill, enabling them to move forward with the sweeping package after hours of delay.
The deal would scale back the level of jobless benefits provided in the version of the bill that passed the House of Representatives last week and set up new tax breaks for people receiving them, according to Democratic aides.
"We have reached a compromise that enables the economy to rebound quickly while also protecting those receiving unemployment benefits from being hit with (an) unexpected tax bill next year," said Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, a key centrist who had pushed to scale back the aid.
The compromise among Democrats, who control the chamber by the narrowest possible margin, on Friday set the stage for a resumption of a potentially long process in which Republicans were expected to offer scores of amendments to try to change the bill. The proceeding was expected to last late into the evening, with a final vote possibly not coming until Saturday.
Unemployment aid was just one of many friction points in the sweeping bill. An attempt to raise the minimum wage fell short earlier in the day, and more votes were expected in a debate that could extend into the weekend.
The legislation currently calls for $US400 ($A520) a week in federal jobless benefits through August 29, on top of state benefits, to help Americans who have lost jobs amid the economic trauma caused by the coronavirus.
The compromise would lower that weekly benefit to $US300, but extend it through September 6, according to a Democratic aide. The first $US10,200 would be tax-free.
The agreement also extends a tax break for businesses for an additional year through 2026.
Democrats hold a slim majority in the Senate and House of Representatives. Congress is scrambling to complete work on the legislation so Biden can sign it into law before March 14, when some existing pandemic-related benefits are due to expire.
Senate Democrats must keep all 50 of their members on board, allowing Vice-President Kamala Harris to cast the deciding vote if no Republicans support the bill.
Since the Senate has already changed the bill by removing the House-passed minimum wage increase, if it votes to approve the legislation it would have to be sent back to the House for final passage.
Senators rejected a proposal by Senator Bernie Sanders to more than double the $US7.25-an-hour federal minimum wage to $US15 over five years. Sanders called the current level a "starvation" wage that has been in place for more than a decade.
As Congress raced to approve the bill, the US Labor Department reported on Friday that US employment surged in February, adding 379,000 jobs, significantly higher than many economists had expected.
The US unemployment rate, while still high at 6.2 per cent last month, was down from 6.3 per cent in January.
Australian Associated Press