The House on Wednesday approved legislation to avert a rail shutdown following a grave warning from President Joe Biden about the economic danger posed by congressional inaction.
By a 290 to 137 vote, the House passed the tentative rail agreement that will prevent a rail strike. The vote was largely bipartisan, with 79 Republicans joining Democrats in voting for the bill. Eight Democrats voted against the bill.
In a separate vote, the House also voted 221 to 207 to add a provision to the rail agreement that would increase the number of paid sick days from one to seven. The bill was passed largely down party lines, with just three Republicans, including John Katko of New York, and Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania crossing over to vote with Democrats on that measure.
Without congressional action, a rail strike could become a reality as early as December 9, causing shortages, spiking prices and halting factory production. It could also disrupt commuter rail services for up to seven million travelers a day and the transportation of 6,300 carloads of food and farm products a day, among other items, according to a collection of business groups.
The additional sick leave provision was added at the insistence of progressive members of the House who had threatened to scuttle the rail agreement bill if sick leave wasn’t included. However, it was added using an arcane tactic that will enable the Senate to pass the original rail agreement without including the sick leave provision.
The bill now heads over to the Senate where it is unclear whether there is support for that provision. The strategy of holding two different votes could give Democrats cover with the left without jeopardizing passage of the bill in the Senate.
A freight rail strike could cost the US economy $1 billion in its first week alone, according to a new analysis from the Anderson Economic Group.
As a result, Biden had pushed Congress to “immediately” pass the legislation to avert a shutdown.
Calling himself a “proud pro-labor President,” Biden said in his Monday statement, “I am reluctant to override the ratification procedures and the views of those who voted against the agreement. But in this case – where the economic impact of a shutdown would hurt millions of other working people and families – I believe Congress must use its powers to adopt this deal.”
A rail shutdown, Biden warned, would “devastate the economy.”