The Senate voted Thursday afternoon to begin debate on President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan with the assistance of Vice President Kamala Harris to make the vote 51-50. Yes, Republicans unanimously opposed even moving forward on providing essential aid to the American people to get out of this pandemic.
Meanwhile, Republican Sen. Ron "Genius" Johnson became the face of the GOP, surpassing his usual ridiculousness in his opposition to the COVID-19 relief bill that 77% of voters support, including 59% of Republicans. That includes saying it really should be blocked from passing for 1,200 days, because ... reasons. Maybe because a $1.9 trillion stack of one dollar bills is "A stack of dollar bills that extends more than halfway the distance to the moon." Because for some reason he believes that is relevant. Of course, the GOP Tax Scam he voted for in 2017 had just about the same price tag but for some reason, he didn't think that stack of bills was too high.
The point is, Johnson is intent on delaying passage of the bill for as long as he can, knowing that Congress has a hard deadline of March 14 (but the sooner the better) to make sure people don't start losing their unemployment benefits. Johnson is going to force the Senate clerks to stay up all night reading the entire relief bill aloud. That should take about 10 hours and do nothing more than make the Senate clerks really pissed off at him.
As Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said, "We all know this will merely delay the inevitable. It will accomplish little more than a few sore throats for the Senate clerks who work very hard." He also said he's "delighted" that the public which already supports the bill will be able to hear all the details of it. "The senator from Wisconsin wants to give the American people another opportunity to hear what's in the American Rescue plan. We Democrats want America to hear what's in the plan," he added. Schumer vowed that the bill will be passed before the week is out, even if that means going into the weekend.
Johnson has every intent of making this go into the weekend, beyond if he can do so. He's supposedly setting up shifts for Republicans to take to force their amendment votes, so they can't be dispensed with on voice votes. "I'm coming up with a process that keeps people from tiring out. I'm getting sign ups. I'm laying out a three shift schedule," Johnson said. How successful that shift work will be at 3 AM Saturday morning remains to be seen, but Sen. Mitt Romney—the "moderate" one—is all for the delaying tactics. That means Republicans are pretty much unanimously opposed to schools having the funds to be reopened safely, for teachers to get vaccinated, for their constituents to get financial help, and food and housing assistance. And maybe get their jobs back.
Because that's what's in the plan: all that and more. Senate Democrats have made some substantial changes to the bill passed by the House last week. The most substantive changes are removing the $15/hour minimum wage hike; lowering the cap for the $1,400 survival checks to exclude people making more than $80,000/annually (down from $100,000 in the House bill) or joint filers making more than $160,000 (from $200,000 in the House bill); funding for a bridge in New York and a railway system in California. Unfortunately, an effort by Finance Chair Ron Wyden to extend the $400/week unemployment boost through September failed, and it will expire on August 29. But he did successfully fight off the effort by conservative Democrats to reduce that assistance to $300.
In exchange for some of that, it will provide more funding to rural hospitals and to expanding broadband—so more for rural states represented by Republicans who are opposing the bill. At least Democrats are looking out for Republican voters. It will also provide more funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency for helping the homeless, and changes the formula for state and local aid to give smaller population states more money.
Once again, Democrats are looking out for Republican voters. Especially those in Alaska, which will see its fisheries and tourist industry get some added boosts, along with the other small state aid. For all that, Lisa Murkowski, the senior Republican senator from Alaska, voted no on the initial procedural vote to bring the bill to the floor. But we're all in this together, excepting the Republican lawmakers who don't want any of this to happen.