The United States Senate has begun consideration of President Biden's massive coronavirus relief package.The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan includes additional stimulus checks, an extension of federal unemployment benefits, and much more, but its passage is not guaranteed.
The measure passed the House last week with zero Republicans voting for it and support among GOP Senators looks equally unlikely, meaning all 50 Democrats will likely have to be on board, in order for Vice President Harris to be able to cast the tie-breaking vote in favor.
Meanwhile, Senate action has been delayed a day due to a request, by Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, (R), to have the entire bill read into the record. Senate clerks began reading the bill's 628 pages around 3:30 ET; it's estimated they could finish after midnight.
"At the very least, this will give everybody time, quite honestly," said Sen. Johnson, "as the clerks are reading it, we can read it as well."
Democratic leaders said the American public supports the package and welcome letting everyone hear the details. They said delaying action on the bill doesn't change how critically important it is to the nation's recovery.
"The risk of doing little is far greater than doing too much," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, (D-NY) Senate Minority Leader.
The concern that most Republicans have with the bill, beyond some of the individual items it contains, is its sheer size. They say there's still about $1 trillion unspent from previous relief packages and want to know why more is needed.
"That shouldn't be an unreasonable question." said Sen. James Lankford, (R-OK), on the Senate floor Wednesday, "that should be a reasonable question."
Sen. Lankford specifically wonders why Democrats want tens of billions more for vaccines, when President Biden just said earlier this week that there should be enough vaccine for every American by the end of May.
"We need to pause for a moment and see what is still needed," Lankford said in an interview today. "What is needed, we need to do, but we shouldn’t do a dime more than what is needed, because every dollar that spent--it’s all borrowed money from China and other places."
Lankford also worries that extending federal unemployment benefits will incentivize people not to go back to work.
"I’ve had employers as recently as yesterday reach out to me and say, 'I’ve got lots of job openings, but folks are saying I’m going to wait until I find out what the unemployment package is coming out of Congress before I actually come in to work,'" Lankford said. "That slows down our economy."
The Senate version of the package does not contain a hike in the minimum wage and the income thresholds for the direct stimulus payments have been tweaked, so the bill, if it does pass, will have to go back to the House.
"This is not a partisan issue," Sen. Lankford insisted, "but it is an issue that we need to be responsible in the process."