Senate GOP planning lots of stunts to delay relief bill everyone wants

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Sen. Ron Johnson threatened to make Democrats 'read their 600- to 700-page bill' during debate in the Senate.

Senate Republicans are planning a series of delaying tactics, hoping to slow passage of President Joe Biden's widely popular $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill and its $1,400 relief checks.

While they do not have the votes to block the legislation, they can use parliamentary tricks to waste a lot of time.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters on Tuesday that the Democratic majority will have the votes to pass the American Rescue Plan this week. With 50 members of his caucus and Vice President Kamala Harris as the tie-breaking vote, they can do so without a single Republican vote. While the Senate's filibuster rules mean the Republican minority can typically block legislation, this bill will be considered under a process called budget reconciliation.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes that "reconciliation allows for expedited consideration of certain tax, spending, and debt limit legislation. In the Senate, reconciliation bills aren't subject to filibuster and the scope of amendments is limited, giving this process real advantages for enacting controversial budget and tax measures."

And when moved through budget reconciliation, legislation needs only a simple majority to pass.

But the GOP minority is making clear that it intends to make the process as unpleasant and slow as possible.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) said Wednesday that he plans to insist that Senate clerks read the entire bill out loud — stalling things by up to 10 hours.

"I will make them read their 600- to 700-page bill," he told a local radio show. "So that every member of the Senate would have time to read it ... before we start the debate on it."

Johnson and his colleagues also say they will offer a stream of amendment proposals to the bill, further stalling its completion for days.

Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN) bragged to CNN on Wednesday that the amendment voting process is "going to go longer than it's ever gone before."

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) suggested he would like to see as many amendments as possible to slow down passage. "I'm hoping for infinity. There are people talking about trying to set up a schedule and having it go on and on," he told Politico on Wednesday. "I don't really want it to pass, so infinity would be a good answer."

The bill includes an array of provisions to help curb the coronavirus pandemic and help those struggling due to resulting business closures.

It would provide $1,400 relief checks for most Americans; $350 billion in direct support for state, local, and territorial governments; $242 billion for unemployment benefits; more than $125 billion to help schools more safely reopen for in-person learning; and tens of billions of dollars for vaccination and testing.

While every House Republican voted against the bill on Saturday, and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) predicted last week that not a single GOP senator will back it, it is hugely popular with the public.

A Politico/Morning Consult survey last week found 76% of voters favor the $1.9 trillion proposal — including 60% of GOP voters. A Navigator Research poll the previous week showed similar 73% support, including 53% Republican backing. A Public Policy Polling survey released on Tuesday found the legislation to be even more popular than puppies, by a 55% to 23% margin.

It also has the support of more than 150 corporate CEOs, hundreds of mayors from both parties, and the Republican governor of West Virginia.

A February CNBC|SurveyMonkey Small Business Survey found 63% of small business owners favor the bill, including 46% of those who called themselves Republicans. Even the typically GOP-leaning U.S. Chamber of Commerce embraced the proposal.

Just weeks ago, Republicans were complaining that the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump was keeping the Senate from more pressing business.

"This is a complete waste of time," Florida Sen. Rick Scott told reporters on Feb. 10. "It's not doing anything to help American families, it's not helping people get jobs, it's not helping get the vaccine out … it's vindictive."

But since the trial ended, they have done little but pursue a strategy of obstruction and delay.

On Wednesday, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) vowed to force the Senate to spend hours debating the nomination of Attorney General-designate Merrick Garland, who enjoys wide bipartisan support.

"Democrats are trying to expedite Judge Garland's confirmation vote. I'm blocking them because Judge Garland has refused to answer basic questions," he tweeted.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.