WASHINGTON – Republican senators have called President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 stimulus package a “clunker”, “bad policy” and “extremely costly.”
The legislation, dubbed the American Rescue Plan, which the Senate began debating on Thursday, is receiving partisan support in Congress. Democrats want it passed soon, but few or no Republican members of Congress have so far expressed support.
It didn’t get a single Republican vote when it passed the House last week, and two Democrats voted against it. A Senate Republican is unlikely to vote for the bill. On Thursday, all Senate Republicans voted against even opening debate on the $ 1.9 trillion measure.
If the bill gets to Congress with only Democrat support, it would set itself apart from the COVID relief plans passed by Congress over the past year. Although the two sides argued over the priorities of each package, all were agreed with the support of members of both sides.
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In March of last year, the Senate, in a bipartisan vote, approved its largest emergency aid program in modern history, the $ 2.2 trillion CARES bill. Three smaller measures were also adopted with overwhelming support from both sides. More recently, despite weeks of painstaking negotiations and months of partisan denunciations, the Senate boomed a COVID-19 relief package of around $ 900 billion in December.
It has been hailed as a “bipartisan breakthrough”.
However, the current Senate package is criticized by Senate Republicans for being partisan and excessive in spending.
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Now, as the Senate approaches the vote on the new legislation, GOP senators are doing everything they can to try to delay. Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson forced the entire 628-page bill to be read on Thursday. He said the tactic was to “educate” Americans on a bill he called full of provisions unrelated to COVID relief. .
Here’s what Republicans don’t like:
Money to state and local governments
The $ 350 billion to help cash-strapped states, cities and tribal governments facing the pandemic has aroused the ire of Republicans.
Highlighting the burgeoning national debt, GOP lawmakers say the provision of state and local aid is an unnecessary part of a “liberal wish list” that would disproportionately benefit the blue states that have been faster than the reds to shut down their economies and suffered greater financial losses.
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“They want to send wheelbarrows of money to state and local bureaucrats to bail out pre-pandemic mismanagement,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, said Wednesday. “They are changing the previous bipartisan funding formula so as to specifically skew the money towards the big blue states.”
Democratic lawmakers and a bipartisan coalition of mayors are backing the funding amid a double whammy that is overwhelming states and local government through no fault of their own: declining tax revenues due to the economic shutdown and rising governments. public assistance needs.
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Money for schools
Some moderate Republican lawmakers have said the legislation will allocate billions of dollars to schools without doing anything significant to reopen them to allow for in-person instruction.
The legislation provides $ 130 billion for schools to fight the virus. GOP senators expressed frustration with the amount, up from $ 50 billion.
Lawmakers say the schedule for distributing funds is too late as schools reopen this year after the vaccine rolls out.
Child tax credit
Democrats want to increase the child tax credit to $ 3,600 per child under 6 and $ 3,000 for children up to 17 for one year to help fight economic damage from the pandemic . Some Liberals are pushing even further to make the tax credit permanent. The current tax credit can reach $ 2,000 per child.
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Republicans have ridiculed proposals such as the tax credit as irrelevant to a COVID-19 relief program and oppose efforts to make it permanent.
Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio said the Democrats’ proposal would turn credit into “welfare,” adding that the benefit should be tied to employment. Rubio, and a few other Republican senators, have proposed their own changes to the child tax credit and oppose the continued expansion of the credit.
Biden told House Democrats in a private question-and-answer session Wednesday night that he supported the increase in the child tax credit, according to a person familiar with the call and not authorized to speak officially.
Congress faces a countdown to securing Biden’s stimulus package by mid-March, when Americans are on the verge of losing an increase in federal unemployment benefits.
Democrats are calling for unemployment benefits implemented during the December relief program to continue until the end of August, while increasing them from $ 300 to $ 400 per week.
Some Republicans have expressed opposition to increasing the weekly amount and extending it for that long.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, told reporters Thursday that he believed “there would be Republicans who would agree to lower the numbers.”
Biden pushed for bipartisanship. What happened?
Biden ran wanting bipartisan efforts on Capitol Hill and being a negotiator during his 36 years in the Senate.
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Biparty efforts were made early in negotiations, with a group of 10 Republicans meeting with Biden at the White House in early February to come up with a counter-offer: a $ 618 billion package.
But, those discussions and communications have since failed, according to Romney, who was one of the senators who met with Biden. He told reporters that there had been “very little effort on the part of the White House” to find common ground with the Republicans.
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Senator Susan Collins, R-Me., Who was also in the Group of 10 Republicans, said talks between the White House and her colleagues were “stuck.”
Biden said he hoped “Republicans in Congress will listen to their constituents,” citing the bill’s popularity in some polls.
Romney told reporters Thursday that if some Republican amendments get into the bill, some of his colleagues might support it.
“But I guess a lot of our amendments are unlikely to get Democrat support, so I think Republicans are very unlikely to support the final bill,” he said.
McConnell and other Republicans also criticized Democrats for using a special process called reconciliation to advance legislation without much input from the GOP.
Reconciliation allows Democrats to pass legislation with a simple majority instead of the 60 votes usually needed to overcome a legislative hurdle called obstruction. The Senate is split 50-50 between Republicans and members of the Democratic caucus. Vice President Kamala Harris, in her capacity as Speaker of the Senate, is available to sever ties.
Republicans saw this as a betrayal of the bipartisanship that Biden embraced and spoke about during his campaign.
There have been changes to certain parts of the bill. what was that?
Some contentious parts of the bill were negotiated or deleted by the parliamentarian of the Senate.
The Senate official ruled that a federal minimum wage increase the House passed early Saturday morning could not be included in the relief bill.
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Two infrastructure projects ridiculed by Senate Republicans were also withdrawn from the COVID-19 relief bill on Tuesday, following deliberations with a key Senate official, according to a spokesperson for the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.
Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said bill funding for the expansion of 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 has also been cut.
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Additionally, Senate Democrats struck a deal with Biden to limit the eligibility of checks to $ 1,400 in his COVID-19 relief bill, phasing out payments for Americans earning more than $ 80,000, according to two sources close to the deliberations not authorized to speak. .
The tweak is a goal of the moderates who didn’t want the checks going to the richest Americans.
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Checks would begin to be phased out at $ 75,000 and entirely at $ 80,000 of income for individuals, up from about $ 100,000 in the version of the law passed by the House last week.
Contribution: Nicholas Wu, Ledge King, Christal Hayes, Joey Garrison, Jeanine Santucci
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden Stimulus Bill COVID: Why is this relief legislation so partisan?