The Senate on Friday will begin a massive vote-a-rama on amendments to President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief plan as Republicans look to delay a final vote on the legislation.
Republican senators are expected to offer multiple amendments to the bill, which Democrats claim is necessary to help the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. The GOP protests the bill’s cost and claim it’s filled with progressive priorities.
As part of their objections they are using the legislative process to delay a final vote as long as possible. On Thursday, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin demanded clerks read the entire 628 page bill aloud.
The process – in which three clerks took turns reading the text aloud in a monotone that threatened to put lawmakers to sleep – took 10 hours and 44 minutes. It began at 3:20 p.m. on Thursday and ended at 2:04 a.m. in the early hours of Friday morning.
Now senators can proceed to debating the legislation, which includes the vote-a-rama, a series of votes on blocks of amendments that could last well into Friday night.
The Senate on Friday will begin a massive vote-a-rama on amendments from Republicans, led by GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell that will challenge Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s to keep Democrats together
Amendments come after Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin demanded clerks read the entire 628 page bill aloud – it took them 10 hours and 44 minutes, beginning at 3:20 p.m. on Thursday and ended at 2:04 a.m. early Friday morning
Republicans plan to use their amendments to put Democrats in a tough spot, forcing them to vote on-the-record on a series of issues and challenging the party to stay united throughout the votes.
Asked how long the vote-a-rama could take, Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota said: ‘It’s indefinite. You’ve got lots of people who want to offer lots of amendments.’
Democrats have vowed to press forward no matter the delays.
‘No matter how long it takes, the Senate is going to stay in session to finish the bill this week,’ Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Thursday.
And it’s not just Republicans who will test Democratic unity.
Sen. Bernie Sanders will offer an amendment to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next five years. It’s an issue that’s a priority for progressives but a no-go for moderates.
The wage hike is in the House version of the legislation but it had to be taken out of the Senate version.
The Senate is using a legislative process called reconciliation to pass the legislation, which keeps Republicans from filibustering it but opens it up to a long amendment process and narrows the scope of what can be included. The Senate parliamentarian ruled the $15 wage hike doesn’t meet the thresh hold for inclusion as it must have a budgetary effect.
Additionally, moderate Democrats are expected to offer an amendment lowering weekly federal unemployment benefits to $300 from $400.
The vote-a-rama is the last hurdle lawmakers face before a final vote on Biden’s sweeping legislation. The final vote is likely to occur sometime this weekend.
Democrats are under pressure to stick together in the evenly-divided 50-50 Senate, where the party cannot afford to lose a single vote and Vice President Kamala Harris will have to break any tie. Harris had to rush up to the Capitol on Thursday afternoon to break a tie vote to allow the Senate to start debate on the relief package.
After she cast her vote, Johnson made his motion to have the bill read aloud.
Bill readings are almost always dispensed with at the start to allow for debate, but Johnson saw it as way to register his frustration over the massive outlay of federal spending.
‘I feel bad for the clerks that are going to have to read it, but it’s just important,’ said Johnson, who has already faced criticism this week for suggesting the deadly January 6 US Capitol riot was not an ‘armed insurrection.’
‘Why are we authorizing another $1.9 trillion when we still have a trillion dollars sitting on the sidelines’ unspent from the previous pandemic relief bills? he told reporters.
‘It’s actually hard to spend this much money.’
Schumer, speaking on the Senate floor Friday morning, thanked the clerks and staff for working such long hours to read the bill.
And, he added, of Johnson: ‘As for our friend from Wisconsin, I hope he enjoyed his Thursday night.’
Sen. Bernie Sanders is expected to offer an amendment that will raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour
VP Harris’ vote may be needed several more times as senators debate amendments and then hold a final vote on the relief package, which is not expected to get any Republican support
The final version of the $1.9 trillion plan could look different after the amendment process wraps up – or not. In a legislative catch, Schumer, at the end of the amendment vote, can offer an amendment that would revert the bill back to its original form.
There have already been some changes, which President Biden agreed to, including cutting off stimulus checks to Americans who make more than $80,000 a year.
He told reporters in the White House on Thursday he was comfortable with his decision cap the limit on those receiving checks.
Biden made the move to sooth Senate moderates, who worried about the cost of the legislation. But the change infuriated progressives – although they are expected to still support the bill.
The compromise means that 9 million fewer households would receive a stimulus payment than in the last tranche of payouts, which came out from President Donald Trump. It also lowers the cost of the legislation by $12 billion, according to Senate Democrats.
Democrats also increased minimum payments to states with smaller rural populations to match the $1.25 billion minimum contained in last year’s CARES Act.
And they added $10 billion for infrastructure, $8.5 billion for health providers and expanded health-care subsidies for those who lose their jobs.
The relief package contains several provisions that have made it popular in opinion polls, even while attracting virtually no Republican support in Congress.
The House passed the COVID relief bill last week with no GOP support. Senate Republicans also are not expected to vote for it. Not a single Republican senator voted to proceed to debate on the legislation Thursday, indicating Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell is keeping his senators in line in objecting to the legislation.
After the Senate passes its final, amended version of the legislation, the House will have to vote on it before Biden can sign it into law.