Senate Republican leaders on Tuesday vowed to fight President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus bill, calling it “wasteful” and pointing specifically to a $140 million rail project near House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s San Fransisco district.
The bill passed the House last week and is expected to pass the Senate this week in some form after a protracted series of votes on amendments.
“This is a wildly expensive proposal largely unrelated to the problem. About 9 percent of the money is in the health care space. Less than 1 percent of it deals with vaccinations,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said at a press conference.
“We’ll be fighting this in every way that we can. It is my hope that at the end, Senate Republicans will unanimously oppose it.”
McConnell said that Biden and Democrats chose to use budget reconciliation to force through the proposal because it otherwise could not clear the 60-vote threshold required for most bills to pass the Senate.
“This package should have been negotiated on a bipartisan basis, like the last five bills were done. Instead, the new administration made a conscious decision to jam us, to do it one party only, to take advantage of the reconciliation process to try to achieve a whole lot of other items completely unrelated to COVID-19,” he said.
Other Republican senators slammed items in the bill.
“This is the way Nancy Pelosi gets $140 million for her tunnel of love to Silicon Valley. The people of America deserve better. Joe Biden ought to go back to the speech that he gave at the inauguration. He ought to go back to how he campaigned on unity on bipartisanship,” said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.)
The bill includes $1,400 stimulus checks for adults earning up to $75,000 per year, with smaller checks for higher earners and nothing for people who make more than $100,000. For each dependent child, the bill authorizes an extra $1,400 payment.
It grants through August a $400-per-week federal unemployment insurance subsidy.
For parents, it also authorizes a $3,600 annual tax credit per child under age 6 and $3,000 per child up to age 17. Those funds also are phased out for earners over $75,000 or joint filers above $150,000. A family of four earning less than $150,000 could bank more than $14,000 from the bill, according to an analysis from CNBC.
Other provisions include $350 billion for state and local governments. New York City is expected to receive about $5.6 billion if the bill passes. The state government would get about $12.7 billion, according to estimates released by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY).
The bill includes $75 billion for vaccination, testing and other pandemic medical supplies. And it adds $7.2 billion to the Paycheck Protection Program, which gives small businesses forgivable loans for payroll and overhead. The PPP program was replenished in December with $484 billion in new funds.
But Republicans note that many of the funds in the bill won’t be spent until long after the pandemic ends.
For example, the bill contains $129 billion for K-12 schools, but the Congressional Budget Office estimates that about 95 percent won’t be spent in 2021, in part because funds approved for schools last year haven’t been spent.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said at the Republican press conference that “nothing in the bill we’re talking about is designed to get kids back in school.”
“In fact,” he added, “if money was the solution there’d be no problem. We’ve already appropriated $67.5 billion dollars to elementary and secondary education. As of Feb. 1. I think $5.1 billion of that had been spent. So $60 billion is available to get kids back in school, and none of it is being used for that purpose.”
The Senate is expected to hold a “vote-a-rama” on the legislation before final passage this week. Those votes on amendments are likely to reveal Democratic divides. During the most recent votes, two Senate Democrats voted to reverse Biden’s decision to kill the Keystone XL oil pipeline before later voting to undo their votes.
The House version of the bill includes a $15 minimum wage proposal that won’t be allowed in the Senate bill according to the upper chamber’s parliamentarian.
Control of the Senate is evenly divided, but ties are broken by Vice President Kamala Harris, who cast her first tie breaking vote last month to approve the Democratic position on a preliminary set of polices for the bill.