Live stimulus updates: Senate Republicans try to slow passage of $1.9 trillion COVID relief package they fiercely oppose

WASHINGTON – A final Senate vote might not happen until early next week on a COVID rescue package that includes $1,400 payments, extends unemployment benefits and expands vaccine distribution as Republicans continue to throw roadblocks to delay President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.

Debate on the bill was scheduled to begin Thursday after Vice President Kamala Harris, in her role as president of the Senate, broke a 50-50 tie to move the bill forward.

But Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., who opposes the measure, made the rare request that Senate clerks read aloud every word of the entire 628-page bill. That’s added hours to the process.

The reading ended overnight, so senators will move on to 20 hours of debate on the bill which could end as late as Sunday. The Senate is set to reconvene at 9 a.m. Friday.

COVID-19 vaccine vials and syringe on top of cash

Then GOP senators plan to propose a blizzard of amendments – including funding cuts to Amtrak and moving funds from family planning to youth suicide prevention – to change some aspects of the bill.

There’s no expectation that a single Republican in the evenly divided Senate will vote for the relief package, no matter how it’s reshaped. They object not only to provisions providing $350 billion for states and localities, expanded unemployment aid and rental assistance but also the size of the package.

“It’s not likely that many of our amendments will get any Democrat support so I think it’s very unlikely that any Republicans will support the final bill,” Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, told reporters Thursday.

After the Senate’s expected passage, it will have to go back to the House for its approval before heading to Biden’s desk for his signature.

Biden and Democratic leaders are pushing to pass the bill before March 14 when unemployment benefits that were approved under an earlier relief bill expire.

– Ledyard King

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