Live stimulus updates: Senate awaits debate on Biden’s COVID bill, Sen. Ron Johnson threatens to slow process

WASHINGTON – Senators await a final price tag on President Joe Biden’s COVID stimulus plan Thursday so they can start debating the measure Democrats are eager to pass by the end of next week.

The Senate had been set to begin debate Wednesday on the legislation, but the Senate was still waiting for the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation to estimate the total cost of the Senate version of the bill, according to a senior Democratic aide speaking on condition of anonymity.

Under the special rules used to pass the bill, the total cost must come in under the $1.9 trillion authorized in previous legislation. The version of the bill passed by the House went billions of dollars over, so Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., would have to introduce a Senate version of the bill to bring it in line.

If the process moves forward Thursday, senators would begin 20 hours of debate, a process at least one Republican wants to make longer.

Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson threatened Wednesday to force a reading of the entire bill. Senators normally forgo the reading out loud of an entire bill when it comes up for debate, but Johnson said he would force the nearly 700-page bill to be read aloud, a process he said could take over 10 hours.

The Senate is set to stay in session Thursday even as the House canceled its Thursday session amid a heightened security threat to the Capitol. The United States Capitol Police said Wednesday they were aware of a “possible plot to breach the Capitol by an identified militia group,” and a notice sent to all congressional offices said the agency was bolstering its security presence on Capitol Hill.

March 4 has been highlighted by the debunked QAnon conspiracy as the “true inauguration day” for former President Donald Trump. It is the date presidents were inaugurated on until 1937.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told reporters he had heard “rumors” about March 4 but had not been briefed on threats. “In light of what we went through on Jan. 6, it’s understandable that people are concerned,” he said, referring to the riots at the Capitol.

He was not going to “second-guess” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to cancel the remaining House session, but the second-ranking Senate Democrat noted Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer had not reached the same conclusion.

Contributing: Jeanine Santucci

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