WASHINGTON — Senators will debate late into the night on Thursday after Republicans filed hundreds of amendments to force votes and slow passage of President Biden’s push for a $1.9T coronavirus bailout.
The process, called a “vote-a-rama,” is an opportunity for GOP lawmakers in the 50-50 Senate to present changes to Biden’s enormous relief package after Democrats voted to go it alone and ram the bill through Congress without Republican support in a tactic known as budget “reconciliation.”
Republicans filed 749 amendments covering everything from climate change negotiations between Washington and Beijing to securing rural access to the COVID-19 vaccine.
Biden’s package would include a new round of $1,400 stimulus checks, enact a national minimum wage increase to $15 and distribute $350 billion in state and local aid.
Conservatives concerned with the ballooning national debt argue that funds should be focused on ending the pandemic and returning people to work with checks only for those who really need it.
Earlier Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell lashed into Democrats for spending “trillions more dollars to make perpetual lockdowns and economic decline and little more palatable,” and said Republicans would force votes on thorny issues to hold Democrats’ feet to the fire.
“If we’re going to debate this phony partisan budget, we will create some clarity for the American people,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.
“We’re going to put senators on the record. Expect votes to stop Washington from killing jobs during a recovery, like terminating the Keystone Pipeline,” he went on, referring to the Keystone XL Pipeline, which Biden just nixed costing Americans jobs.
The “vote-a-rama” tactic did award Republicans some wins.
Lawmakers overwhelmingly supported an amendment from Wyoming GOP Sen. John Barrasso supporting schools with lost revenue due to Biden’s new ban on oil and gas leasing on federal lands.
According to Barrasso’s office, in 2019 alone, revenues from oil and gas production contributed $1.37 billion to New Mexico and $669 million to Colorado public schools.
The amendment passed 98-2.
And a bipartisan amendment to ensure $1,400 stimulus checks don’t go to “upper-income taxpayers,” introduced by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), passed 58-42.
Democrats and Republicans also approved amendments to ensure that undocumented immigrants don’t receive stimulus checks, measures aimed at helping ailing independent restaurants, raising public awareness about vaccine administration and not hiking taxes on small businesses amid the pandemic.
Another amendment sought to strip New York state of federal COVID-19 relief following the bombshell that Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s government underreported nursing home deaths by some 50 percent.
The measure needed a simple majority to be passed but was defeated in a 50-50 vote along party lines.
“Requiring states to provide accurate data is common sense for anyone who believes as I do, that we should have a science-based fact-driven response to this pandemic,” sponsor Sen. Rick Scott (R-S.C.) said in a speech on the Senate floor.
“We should not offer more funding to states that have mismanaged, and then covered up their pandemic response, until they fix it. It simply makes no sense,” he said.
Democrats argued against the measure — bizarrely suggesting the cover-up was former President Donald Trump’s fault.
“They never had a plan. They didn’t help the states. This is an effort, an ongoing effort, to blame states, when the federal government dropped the ball when it came to long term care,” said Sen. Bob Casey (D-Penn.).
Republicans also used the night of free-wheeling amendments on the Senate floor to force votes on some pet issues.
Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska called for funding to provide for proper care of children who survive an attempted abortion but he was quickly reminded that the amendment was not “germane,” meaning it didn’t pertain to the matter of coronavirus relief.
Once lawmakers are finished with “vote-a-rama,” the House and Senate will move forward with crafting the enormous package which will go to Biden’s desk for his approval.
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