Senate Republicans are taking on a risky strategy to use all the procedural tactics at their disposal to delay President Biden’s popular $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package as long as possible in hopes that they can turn public opinion against the legislation.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), a staunch ally of former President Trump, is leading the resistance effort and says he is trying to recruit about a dozen Republican colleagues to delay final passage of the legislation until Saturday or Sunday.
Johnson told colleagues Wednesday that he would force the Senate clerks to read the entirety of Senate Democrats’ substitute relief bill, which is expected to span more than 600 pages, something that will delay the floor debate and amendments by 10 hours.
He also is trying to muster enough Republican colleagues to prolong a series of amendment votes as long as possible.
“Right now I’ve got a fair amount of support in the conference. We’ll see how that support continues in the wee hours of the morning and into tomorrow, Saturday, into Sunday,” he said.
He says the plan is to keep the $1.9 trillion bill in the spotlight long enough to turn public sentiment against the popular legislation, but it’s a risky strategy, as a recent poll showed that 76 percent of voters and 60 percent of Republicans support the bill.
Republicans could be hammered by Democrats for holding up $1,400 checks to individuals, funding to distribute COVID-19 vaccines, scale up testing, eliminate supply shortages and provide additional resources for K-12 schools and colleges to reopen and stay open.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) accused Republicans of pulling out the same playbook of obstructionist tactics they used when former President Obama was in office.
“Regrettably, it seems that too many of our Republican colleagues are resorting to the same predictable objections they raise about nearly every proposal supported by a Democrat. It doesn’t matter what’s in the bill, everything my colleagues oppose is a, quote, a liberal wish list,” he said.
Joseph Geevarghese, executive director of Our Revolution, a political action group that grew out of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) 2016 presidential campaign, said Republicans are delaying critical relief when many families are suffering because of the pandemic.
“We’re in a moment of incredible pain and suffering, and it’s a political miscalculation on their part to create impediments to passing something that is incredibly popular and that people need right away,” he said.
“Republicans and Democrats together want action on the issues that matter, and I think Republicans creating gridlock in this moment is going to further sour people on what’s happening in Washington. Maybe that plays into Trump’s hands,” he added.
A Quinnipiac University poll published last month showed that 68 percent of Americans support the $1.9 trillion package while a Morning Consult-Politico poll published this week showed that 77 percent of voters support the package, including 59 percent of polled Republicans.
A Senate GOP aide acknowledged the bill is popular but explained the GOP strategy for retaking the majority in 2022 will depend on how successful Republicans are in defining Biden’s agenda negatively.
The staffer pointed out that Trump’s 2017 tax cut bill initially was popular but was steadily ground down by a barrage of Democratic attacks that redefined public perception of one of his signature legislative accomplishments.
Johnson says his model is a fight that took place over an emergency supplemental spending bill in 1993, when opponents were able to shave down its cost by keeping it on the Senate floor for 12 days, heightening controversy over the legislation.
“We need to keep this process going so we can highlight the abuse, how this is not COVID relief, how this is a boondoggle for Democrats,” Johnson said.
Johnson is telling colleagues the 1993 spending bill was originally $19.5 billion but, after being kept on the floor for nearly two weeks, was whittled down to $4 billion.
“If we do the same thing here, starting with $1.9 trillion and whittle down to $400 billion, that would be a huge success. We should at least try,” he said.
Johnson, who has not said whether he will run for reelection next year, said he needs 12 or 13 Republicans at all times to force roll call votes on amendments for as long as possible.
The special budgetary rules that Democrats are using to pass the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill with a simple-majority vote and avoid a Republican filibuster requires that a marathon series of votes on amendments — known as a vote-a-rama — takes place before final passage. These tiring vote sessions usually peter out around 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. when lawmakers run out of energy.
Senators, however, voted until past 5 a.m. last month before passing a budget resolution to set the stage for the COVID-19 relief bill to move under reconciliation protection this week.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told Fox News Channel’s Martha MacCallum Wednesday that Republicans are hoping to significantly reduce the size of the relief bill.
“There is a chance,” he said, that centrist Democrats “may join us in slimming it down some.”
“Any amount we can reduce the size of this is a good thing for the country. And I think there’s at least a chance that one or two Democrats could join all of us and spend a little bit less,” he said.
The GOP leader predicted that “every single Republican” in the Senate will vote against it.
At this point, it appears Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) is the only Republican senator who is a potential “yes” vote.
A group of Senate Republicans railed against the legislation during a Wednesday press conference after the entire GOP conference met for lunch.
“Less than 2 percent of the bill is going to deal with COVID, less than 1 percent is going to deal with vaccines. One of the things I’m very concerned about is the waste of money that we’re going to end up giving to state — blue-state bailouts,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Rick Scott (R-Fla.).
“We can’t waste the money, we have a $27 trillion worth of debt. If the Democrats pass this bill it will be $30 trillion worth of debt,” he added, warning that interest rates are starting to tick up over inflation concerns.