Senate votes to avert rail strike; sends the legislation to Biden

WASHINGTON — The Senate passed legislation Thursday to avoid an economically catastrophic rail strike, one day after the House approved the measure.

It now goes to President Joe Biden, who said he “will sign the bill into law.” He had pleaded with Congress to act swiftly, warning of major harm to supply chains that could disrupt clean drinking water and gasoline in an already fragile economy.

“Working together, we have spared this country a Christmas catastrophe in our grocery stores, in our workplaces, and in our communities,” Biden said in a statement after the Senate vote. “I know that many in Congress shared my reluctance to override the union ratification procedures. But in this case, the consequences of a shutdown were just too great for working families all across the country.”

The agreement, which required 60 votes, passed 80 to 15 with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., voting present.

The Senate held three votes in succession, each requiring 60 votes for approval.

It rejected an amendment by Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, to 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.

The Senate also rejected an amendment championed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and other Democrats to add seven days of paid sick leave for rail workers to the agreement. The vote was 52 to 43, falling eight votes short of succeeding.

The “no” votes on the sick leave measure included 42 Republicans and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. Most Democrats voted “yes,” joined by six Republicans: Sens. Mike Braun of Indiana, Ted Cruz of Texas, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Josh Hawley of Missouri, John Kennedy of Louisiana and Marco Rubio of Florida.

After that, the Senate voted to impose the agreement brokered by the Biden administration in September, approving legislation that already been passed by the House. While the deal was brokered by the White House and championed as a compromise, it was rejected by some of the unions.

“Let me be clear. This struggle is not over,” Sanders said after the vote, regretting the failure of the sick leave amendment. “At a time of record-breaking profits for the rail industry, it is disgraceful that railroad workers do not have a single day of paid sick leave.”

Earlier in the day, Biden said he would continue to fight for paid leave after the rail strike is averted.

“I think we’re gonna get it done, but not within this agreement,” he said at a joint news conference with French President Emmanuel Macron at the White House.

Rebecca Shabad contributed.

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