With Congress set to leave Washington, D.C., for two weeks at the end of this week, Senate Republicans continue to drag their feet on two critical pieces of legislation: rescinding permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) with Russia, along with codifying President Joe Biden’s energy imports ban; and passing desperately needed COVID-19 funding to allow the administration to continue to fight the global pandemic. The House has already done both of these things, but both will have to go from the Senate back to the House to be passed again there, since the Senate will have made changes. Which means both are very likely to be delayed until Congress reconvenes during the last week of April, if not May.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer attempted to file cloture Tuesday on the $10 billion COVID-19 relief bill to which Republicans have already agreed. That vote failed 47-52, with Schumer voting no so that he can retain the ability bring the bill back up. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) also voted no.
“The need to continue funding the fight against COVID is clear, but I cannot support siphoning off essential resources for rural communities, tribes and small businesses in Oregon and nationwide just to pad drug companies’ profits,” Wyden said. He continued, “It’s pure politics that Republicans insisted vital COVID assistance be drained to pay for this bill. I remain committed to finding solutions […] needed to battle this public health crisis without making rural America, tribes and small businesses foot the bill.”
The funding has already been chopped by more than half from the administration’s initial ask. At $10 billion, it would allow for the purchase of more vaccines and therapies, and would allow testing and research to continue. It contains no funding at all for USAID to help developing nations stave off the disease. It also includes no funding for the administration to continue to pay for testing, vaccinations, and treatments for the uninsured.
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Those critical elements were cut because Republicans refuse to pass a bill with them. They are also refusing to allow a vote unless they get an amendment to the bill to force the Biden administration to reinstate the Title 42 restrictions imposed during the Trump administration and authored by white supremacist Stephen Miller. The administration announced the end of the policy last week. Republican governors immediately sued and now Republican senators are tying up COVID-19 vaccine, testing, and treatment funding in protest.
The administration has been urging the funding for weeks, warning that money are running out—and fast. “We have enough tests on hand to weather the surge,” Biden said last week. “But without funding, we’re not going to be able to sustain the testing capacity beyond the month of June. And if we fail to invest, we leave ourselves vulnerable if another wave of the virus hits.”
That’s one global emergency. On the other big one, Ukraine, the U.S. Congress is lagging behind the rest of the world, thanks to the Republicans in the Senate who can stop anything from happening even though they do not have a majority. The European Union (EU) is proposing further sanctions; its fifth package banning Russian coal; banning all transactions by four Russian banks; banning all Russian and Russian-operated vessels from using any EU ports, as well as a ban on Russian and Belarusian commercial transport in the EU; and another €10 billion worth of bans on Russian advanced semiconductors, machinery, and transport equipment.
In addition to that, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced Tuesday that the EU is “working on additional sanctions, including on oil imports, and we are reflecting on some of the ideas presented by the member states, such as taxes or specific payment channels such as an escrow account.”
Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are still balking at revoking Russia’s PNTR status with the U.S. The sanctions language Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) demanded be included hasn’t been settled, and other unnamed but most likely Republican senators are demanding other changes. It’s looking more and more unlikely that this agreement will be reached before the Senate’s recess. As Sen. Wyden told reporters, “every day of delay” puts “more money into Putin’s hands.”
Republicans are so intent on preventing President Biden from having any kind of win at all, they are presenting a divided government face to the rest of the world—and to Vladimir Putin. That’s terrible for the U.S., but indescribably bad for Ukraine, giving Putin more license to indiscriminately slaughter Ukrainian citizens.
It doesn’t help that on Tuesday 63 House Republicans voted against a resolution “Calling on the United States Government to uphold the founding democratic principles of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and establish a Center for Democratic Resilience within the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.” Yes, they voted against upholding the democratic principles of NATO.
The Republican Party is posing a clear danger to the actual republic.