While the U.S. Senate is occupied with the impeachment trial, the House is working to pass President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. Markup of a large portion of the bill got underway Wednesday in the House's Ways and Means Committee.
Democrats on the committee said this relief package is long overdue and that it will finally deliver the coordinated federal response needed to defeat COVID-19. They said the notion that the nation can recover without meaningful federal intervention is ridiculous.
Republicans on the committee do not see it the same way. One of those Republicans represents Oklahoma's 1st Congressional District.
"I have a number of concerns with the bill before us today," Rep. Kevin Hern said in his opening statement, which he made remotely.
Hern is new to the important Ways and Means Committee, but that didn't keep him from sharing his numerous concerns with the package, beginning with, he said, the fact there has been zero Republican input on the bill to this point.
"I’d love to be a part of the solution here," said Hern. "I know many of my colleagues. on all sides, feel the same way, but none of us on the Republican side were consulted on this bill."
With regard to what the president and Democrats have put in the package, Hern worries that much of it is either unnecessary or goes too far. For example, he thinks fewer Americans should qualify for the additional $1,400 stimulus payments. He said, the way it is written right now, the checks will go to many people who are still working and don't truly need them.
"Let's not waste any more taxpayer dollars than we have to," Hern implored. "We need to be very targeted in what we do -- there is no excuse for exorbitant spending, period."
In total, House Ways and Means is responsible for marking up almost half of the relief package: $941 billion in proposals, which include the additional direct payments, health insurance subsidies, increase tax credits for low-income workers and families, and enhanced federal unemployment benefits.
Hern thinks this will harm small businesses and keep people from going back to work.
"I have a serious concern about incentivizing workers to stay on unemployment rather than incentivizing workers to return to the workforce," Hern told other members.
In an interview Tuesday, Hern said it was a good thing that the bill was going through this markup process and not being simply rammed through, as there will be opportunity for committee members to offer amendments.
"We are going to work everywhere we can to tweak it," said Herm, "to make it more targeted, to make sure we're not missing out on anything."
Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, D-Massachusetts, has scheduled markup process through Friday, and it could be March before a final bill gets to Biden's desk. The goal of the measure's supporters is to have it approved before current jobless benefits expire in mid-March.