BFF-08 US Senate begins debating — and reading — Covid relief package

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US Senate begins debating — and reading — Covid relief package

WASHINGTON, March 5, 2021 (BSS/AFP) – The US Senate, whipsawed over the
$1.9 trillion Covid rescue package, finally took up the sweeping bill
Thursday, with multiple hurdles ahead as President Joe Biden seeks to push
his top legislative priority through Congress.

Republicans already appeared united in opposing the proposal over its high
cost, and lawmakers braced for marathon days that will include up to 20 hours
of debate and a lengthy list of amendments that will force contentious votes
before the bill’s final passage.

But Biden has been desperate to implement its key elements, including
direct checks of up to $1,400 for most Americans, funding for vaccines,
expanded unemployment benefits, resources to help open schools quickly and
money to hard-hit businesses and communities.

With the chamber deadlocked at 50-50, Vice President Kamala Harris broke
the tie to allow debate to begin.

The process immediately hit a snag when Republican Senator Ron Johnson
demanded that the entire coronavirus package be read aloud on the floor — a
procedure that is almost always dispensed with.

The version which passed the House last week was 630 pages long, and the
reading is estimated to take about 10 hours, meaning debate may only begin on
the bill well after midnight.

“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.”

After debate, Republicans will introduce multiple amendments to the bill in
a process known as a “vote-a-rama,” in which senators can propose unlimited
numbers of amendments.

Republicans aim to delay the process, so senators are bracing for a vote-a-
rama that could stretch into the weekend or next week.

One big question is whether Democrats can stick together on such a massive
bill.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer expressed confidence that they will,
and insisted Democrats were “delighted” about Johnson’s stunt.

“If the senator from Wisconsin wants to read it, let everybody listen
because it has overwhelming support” among the American public, Schumer told
the chamber.

“No matter how long it takes, the Senate is going to stay in session to
finish the bill this week.”

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham sounded unperturbed about the potential
for a drawn out fight over Biden’s top legislative priority.

“I think we’re going to be judged by the quality of what we do, not how
long it takes,” Graham told AFP.

The package has already suffered a Democratic setback, with the $15 minimum
wage language in the House bill ruled ineligible for the Senate version under
budget reconciliation rules.

BSS/AFP/GMR/0921 hrs