Republicans are threatening to drag out the passage of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan in the Senate this week, accusing Democrats of advancing a partisan bill full of wasteful spending that isn’t related to the health crisis.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) on Wednesday said he planned to force a verbal reading of the entire bill — which is expected to be hundreds of pages long — prior to the start of debate in the chamber. The Senate typically does not read bills aloud, though any single member can force an actual reading.
“I’m going to make them read that thing. It will probably take about 10 hours,” Johnson, who is up for reelection next year, said in an interview with WISN radio in Milwaukee.
The massive legislation — which includes $1,400 direct payments; more jobless benefits; and funding for schools, vaccine distribution, and state and local governments — has broad bipartisan public support. According to a Morning Consult survey released Wednesday, 77% of all voters and 59% of Republicans said they supported the package.
But congressional Republicans are lining up against the proposal anyway. After supporting trillions of dollars in new federal spending under former President Donald Trump, including a partisan $1.5 trillion tax cut, the GOP is once again griping about deficits and debt under a Democratic president.
Republicans can’t block the bill as long as Democrats remain united. But GOP senators can make life more difficult for the majority ― and, Democrats note, for the millions of Americans who are waiting to receive another direct payment or supplemental jobless benefits, which are due to expire on March 14.
“We should stop playing games and provide people the relief they need,” Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) said Wednesday when asked about Johnson’s gambit to force a delay in the bill’s passage.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), meanwhile, expressed sympathy for Senate staff who would be forced to spend hours reading the bill.
“It just delays things a day,” he said. “I just feel sorry for the reading clerk.”
Republicans on Wednesday also signaled plans to force votes on scores of amendments to the bill during a marathon session of the Senate known as “vote-a-rama” later this week. The Senate could reach a deal to limit the number of amendments and truncate the process, but at least for the moment, lawmakers are expecting many hours of voting that could stretch into Friday morning, and potentially even longer.
“It’s our job to point out what’s wrong with that bill,” Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) said Wednesday, predicting that the process would be even lengthier than usual.
Johnson, meanwhile, said he would need 12 or 13 of his GOP colleagues on the floor to keep the “vote-a-rama” session going into the weekend. It’s unclear whether enough of his colleagues, who are known for having a distaste for weekend sessions in the Senate, will comply.
“I’ve got a fair amount of support in the conference,” he told WISN.
The Senate is expected to begin the process of voting on the $1.9 trillion bill, which was approved by the Democratic-controlled House last week on a party-line vote, as soon as Wednesday evening. It’s the fifth major relief bill since the pandemic started. A group of Republicans proposed a $600 billion package earlier this year but Democrats, citing projections about the economy and the large numbers of unemployed people, called it inadequate.
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