WASHINGTON – Republicans have united against President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, including several moderate senators who said the legislation is excessive and goes beyond the problems resulting from COVID-19.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., 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 such as McConnell’s indicate Republican support will be minimal.
Democrats aim 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 Friday.
“The American people strongly support this bill, and we are moving swiftly to see it enacted into law,” Hoyer tweeted Wednesday.
The House will vote on Friday on @POTUS’ #AmericanRescuePlan to end this pandemic and deliver urgently needed relief to America’s families and small businesses. The American people strongly support this bill, and we are moving swiftly to see it enacted into law.
— Steny (Wear a Mask) Hoyer (@LeaderHoyer) February 24, 2021
Senate Republicans said this week they wouldn’t vote for the bill in its current state. Several argued that much of the legislation is irrelevant to the problems the country faces during the pandemic.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said on CNBC Wednesday, “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.”
More than 1/3 of funding in the Administration’s proposed #COVID19 package wouldn’t be spent until 2022 or later, undermining their claim that the massive price tag is justified for urgent pandemic-related needs. The next relief package should be targeted and bipartisan. https://t.co/3GNfIhTonV
— Senator Mitt Romney (@SenatorRomney) February 24, 2021
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 said 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 part of a group of 10 Republicans that met with Biden at the White House early this month to propose a counteroffer: a $618 billion package that would scrap Biden’s plan for $350 billion in direct aid to state and local governments and remove his proposal to boost the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.
The Republican group’s plan would reduce direct payments to Americans from $1,400 to $1,000.
Republicans may 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 shows a majority of all voters, including Republicans, support passing Biden’s legislation. Seventy-six percent of Americans, and 60% of Republicans, support the legislation
Some moderate Republican lawmakers said the legislation would allocate billions for schools without doing anything meaningful to get them reopened. The legislation includes $128 billion for schools to deal with the virus. Republicans pointed to a Congressional Budget Office estimate that said $6 billion would flow to schools in 2021, increasing to $32 billion in 2022 and 2023.
Democrats argued that relief goes beyond addressing immediate needs and should also focus on longer-term solutions.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said proposals Republicans criticized as 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), and a swing of five members on the floor would kill the bill.
If the bill passes the House, it would go to the Senate, where it would face a more complicated process – and a seemingly unified Republican caucus.
Contributing: Christal Hayes, Ledyard King, Nicholas Wu, Matthew Brown
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Stimulus checks: Here’s where Congress currently stands on legislation