WASHINGTON – Republican Senators have described President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 stimulus plan as a “clunker,” “bad politics” and “wildly expensive.”
The legislation, dubbed the American Rescue Plan, which the Senate started debating Thursday, is getting a partisan reception in Congress. Democrats want it passed soon, but little to no Republican members of Congress have so far voiced support.
It didn’t earn a single Republican vote when it passed last week in the House, and two Democrats voted against it. It’s unlikely any Senate Republican will vote for the bill. On Thursday, all Senate Republicans voted against even starting debate on the $1.9 trillion measure.
If the bill makes it through Congress with only Democratic support, it would stand out from the COVID relief plans Congress passed over the last year. Though the two sides have squabbled over priorities in each package, all were approved with members of both parties in support.
In March of last year, the Senate, in a bipartisan vote, approved its largest emergency aid package in modern history, the $2.2 trillion CARES Act. Three smaller measures also passed with the overwhelming support of both parties. Most recently, despite weeks of painstaking negotiations and months of partisan finger-pointing, the Senate resoundingly passed a roughly $900 billion COVID-19 relief package in December.
That was hailed as a “bipartisan breakthrough.”
However, the current package going through the Senate is being slammed by Senate Republicans as partisan and excessive in its spending.
Now, as the Senate nears voting on the new legislation, GOP senators are pulling out all the stops to try to delay. Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson forced a reading of the entire 628-page bill Thursday. He said the tactic was about “educating” Americans about a bill he derided as full of provisions unrelated to COVID relief. .
Here is some of what Republicans dislike:
Money to state and local governments
The $350 billion to help cash-strapped states, cities and tribal governments confronting the pandemic has drawn ire from Republicans.
Pointing to the ballooning national debt, GOP lawmakers say the state and local aid provision is an unnecessary part of a “liberal wish list” that would disproportionately benefit blue states that were quicker than red ones to shut down their economies and suffered larger financial loses.
“They want to send wheelbarrows of cash to state and local bureaucrats to bail out mismanagement from before the pandemic,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Wednesday. “They’re changing the previous bipartisan funding formula in ways that will especially bias the money toward big blue states.”
Democratic lawmakers and a bipartisan coalition of mayors support the funding due to a double whammy saddling states and local government through no fault of their own: declining tax revenues from the economic shutdown and swelling public assistance needs.
Money for schools
Some moderate Republican lawmakers said the legislation would allocate billions for schools without doing anything meaningful to get them reopened to allow in-person teaching.
The legislation includes $130 billion for schools to deal with the virus. GOP Senators have expressed frustration with the amount, countering with $50 billion.
The lawmakers say the timeline for doling out funds is too late, as schools reopen this year following a vaccine rollout.
Child tax credit
Democrats want to increase the child tax credit up to $3,600 per child under age 6 and $3,000 for children up to age 17 for one year to help combat the economic damage of the pandemic. Some liberals are pushing even further to make the tax credit permanent. The current tax credit is up to $2,000 per child.
Republicans have derided proposals such as the tax credit as not relevant in a COVID-19 relief package and oppose efforts to make it permanent.
Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said the Democrats’ proposal would turn the credit into “welfare,” adding the benefit should be tied to employment. Rubio, and some other Republican senators, have proposed their own changes to the child tax credit, and stand against the permanent expansion of the credit.
Biden told House Democrats during a private question-and-answer session Wednesday evening he supported the child tax credit increase, according to a person familiar with the call not authorized to speak on the record.
Congress faces a countdown to get the stimulus package to Biden by mid-March, when Americans are set to lose a boost to federal unemployment benefits.
Democrats are calling for unemployment benefits implemented during December’s relief package to be continued until the end of August, while also boosting it from $300 to $400 a week.
Some Republicans have voiced opposition to raising the weekly amount, and extending it for that long.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, told reporters Thursday he thinks “there would be Republicans who would agree to bring the number down.”
Biden pushed for bipartisanship. What happened?
Biden ran on wanting bipartisanship efforts on Capitol Hill, and being a negotiator during his 36 years in the Senate.
Bipartisan efforts were made in the beginning of negotiations, with a group of 10 Republicans meeting with Biden at the White House in early February to propose a counteroffer: a $618 billion package.
But, those talks and communication have since fizzled, according to Romney, who was one of the senators who met with Biden. He told reporters there has been “very little effort on the part of the White House” to find common ground with Republicans.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Me., who was also in the group of 10 Republicans, said talks between the White House and her colleagues “stalled.”
Biden said he hoped “Republicans in Congress listen to their constituents,” citing the popularity of the bill in some polls.
Romney told reporters Thursday if some Republican amendments got into the bill, some of his colleagues may support it.
“But my guess is 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,” he said.
McConnell and other Republicans have also criticized Democrats for using a special process called reconciliation to push forward the legislation without much input from the GOP.
Reconciliation allows Democrats to pass the legislation with a simple majority instead of the 60 votes usually needed to overcome a legislative hurdle called a filibuster. The Senate is split 50-50 between Republicans and Democratic caucus members. Vice President Kamala Harris, in her position as president of the Senate, is available to break ties.
Republicans have viewed this as a betrayal of the bipartisanship Biden embraced and spoke of during his campaign.
There has been movement on some parts of the bill. What have those been?
Some contentious parts of the bill have been negotiated, or struck by the Senate parliamentarian.
The Senate official ruled a federal minimum wage increase the House passed early Saturday morning cannot be included in the relief bill.
Two infrastructure projects derided by Senate Republicans were also dropped from the COVID-19 relief bill on Tuesday, following deliberations with a key Senate official, according to a spokesperson for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Pelosi spokesperson Drew Hammill said the bill’s funding for an expansion of the BART, a subway system serving the San Francisco Bay Area, was struck from the bill because it was “part of a pilot project.” And $1.5 million in funding for a bridge between part of upstate New York and Canada was also scrapped.
Additionally, Senate Democrats reached a deal with Biden to limit the eligibility for $1,400 checks in his COVID-19 relief bill, phasing the payments out for Americans earning more than $80,000, according to two sources familiar with the deliberations not authorized to speak on the record.
The tweak is a goal of moderates who did not want the checks to go to wealthier Americans.
The checks would start to phase out at $75,000 and phase out entirely at $80,000 of income for individuals, as opposed to about $100,000 in the version of the legislation passed by the House last week.
Contributing: Nicholas Wu, Ledge King, Christal Hayes, Joey Garrison, Jeanine Santucci
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden COVID stimulus bill: Why this relief legislation is so partisan