Mar 3, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Senate Republicans plan to exact pain before COVID relief vote

Sen. Ron Johnson is seen speaking with a pair of reporters.

Sen. Ron Johnson. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Republicans are demanding a full, 600-page bill reading — and painful, multi-hour "vote-a-rama" — as Democrats forge ahead with their plan to pass President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package.

Why it matters: The procedural war is aimed at forcing Democrats to defend several parts the GOP considers unnecessary and partisan. While the process won't substantially impact the final version of the mammoth bill, it'll provide plenty of ammunition for future campaign messaging.

  • The timetable is uncertain, but the clock likely won't start ticking until Thursday, and final passage may not come until this weekend.

What to expect: The Congressional Budget Office and Joint Committee on Taxation must send their cost "score" of the legislation to the Senate, which is expected Thursday. The chamber will then begin 20 hours of debate.

  • Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) told a radio station in his state he plans to force the clerk to read the 600- to 700-page bill.
  • That would likely tack another 10 hours to the 20 hours allotted for debate, Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) told reporters.
  • Along the way, the GOP will offer amendments both related and unrelated to the legislation, requiring a string of uncomfortable votes for Democrats.

What they're saying: "We’re really going to continue to hammer on all the nonsense that’s non-COVID related that has been packed into this Democratic wish list," Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) told reporters.

  • "I would expect a very long night into the next day and keep going on. A lot to still cover,” said Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.).
  • Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said Democrats can afford to burn a day or two, but, "I just feel sorry for the reading clerk."

The big picture: Democrats are fast approaching Biden's deadline for signing the American Rescue Plan Act before many coronavirus relief benefits expire on March 14.

  • While the bill must still be reconciled with the version the House passed, Democratic leaders tell Axios they remain hopeful the measure will be signed into law by the end of next week.
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