Here’s where Congress stands on legislation that includes a stimulus check; a key vote happens Friday
WASHINGTON – Republicans have emerged as an united front against President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, with several key moderate Senate votes stating the legislation is excessive and goes beyond the problems resulting from COVID-19.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday, “The partisan bill Democrats are preparing is stuffed with non-COVID-related liberal goals and more band-aid policies as if the country were going to stay shut down another year.”
Though Biden had hoped the legislation would be bipartisan, Democrats on Capitol Hill are eager to pass it, even without Republican support. Comments like McConnell’s indicate Republican support will be minimal.
Democrats are aiming to pass the whole package through both chambers of Congress by mid-March, when a federal boost to unemployment benefits expires.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said the House will vote on Biden’s COVID-19 relief package on Friday.
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“The American people strongly support this bill, and we are moving swiftly to see it enacted into law,” Hoyer tweeted Wednesday.
But the bill faces increasing opposition on the right, with key Senate Republicans saying this week they wouldn’t vote yes in its current state. Several have argued that much of the bill is irrelevant to the current problems the country faces due to the pandemic.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said on CNBC Wednesday that “A lot within this bill is a waste or a wish list from the progressives.”
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah., in a Wall Street Journal op-ed published Tuesday called the legislation a “clunker”, wasteful and excessive.
“Not a lot is happening behind the scenes that involves Republicans,” Romney told the New York Times DealBook Policy Project Conference on Tuesday. “I think the Democratic leadership has determined that they want to push through the plan without any changes to it whatsoever, and without any input from Republicans and, because it’ll be done through budget reconciliation, they don’t need any of our votes.”
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she doesn’t expect a single Republican to support the package “if the bill comes out at $1.9 trillion even if we’re able to make some beneficial changes.”
“The administration has not indicated a willingness to come down from its $1.9 trillion figure and that’s a major obstacle,” Collins told reporters this week.
Reconciliation allows Democrats to pass the legislation with a simple majority instead of the 60-votes usually needed to get past a potential filibuster in the Senate. The Senate is tied 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, and Vice President Kamala Harris is available to break ties.
If no Republican gets on board with the $1.9 trillion package, it will be the first partisan legislative package related to pandemic relief.
Collins and Romney were both part of a group of 10 Republicans that met with Biden at the White House early in February to propose a counteroffer: A $618 billion package that would scrap Biden’s plan for $350 billion in direct aide to state and local governments, and remove Biden’s proposal to boost the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.
The Republican group’s plan would also reduce direct payments to Americans from $1,400 to $1,000.
But Republicans may also be face a political quandary: According to a few polls, the legislation is popular with a majority of Americans, regardless of party.
A Politico/Morning Consult poll released Wednesday showed a majority of all voters, including Republicans, supported passing Biden’s legislation. Seventy-six percent of all Americans, and 60% of Republicans, supported the legislation
However, some moderate Republicans, have said the legislation allocates billions for schools without doing anything meaningful to get schools reopened. The legislation includes $128 billion for schools to deal with the virus. Republicans have pointed to a Congressional Budget Office estimate that said $6 billion would flow to schools in 2021, with that number increasing to $32 billion in 2022 and 2023.
Democrats are pushing back against Republican criticism by arguing that relief goes beyond addressing immediate needs and should also focus on longer term solutions.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., the Democrats’ Caucus Chairman argued the proposals included in the measure, that Republicans have criticized as being unneeded and unrelated to the pandemic, are part of Biden’s mission to not just go back to normal, but improve the country.
“The pandemic has exposed significant disparities that exist across many different communities, including communities of color. Joe Biden promised not a return to normalcy, but to build back better in the context of the public health and economic challenges that we face related to the pandemic,” Jeffries said.
Democrats can’t afford to lose more than a handful of their House members since they have only a 10-seat advantage (221-211) in the House and a swing of five members on the floor would kill the bill.
If the bill passes the House, it would then go to the Senate, where it would face a more complicated process, and seemingly unified Republican caucus.
Contributing: Christal Hayes, Ledyard King, Nicholas Wu, Matthew Brown