Oklahoma's House Members Vote Against Latest COVID Stimulus Bill

Monday, March 1st 2021, 5:46 pm
By: Alex Cameron


The fate of President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan is unclear Monday night as it moves over to the Senate for consideration.

The U.S. House of Representatives barely passed the massive relief package early Saturday morning without the support of any of Oklahoma's House members or any other Republicans. Two Democrats joined Republicans in voting against it.

Recent polling show there is broad public support for the president's stimulus package (76%), even among registered Republicans (60%), but congressional Republicans said the measure is simply too expensive and includes too many items that have nothing to do with the pandemic.

"Components of this package were shoved through committees on strictly partisan lines," said Rep. Kevin Hern, (R) OK-1, in a brief floor speech on Friday.

Hern has numerous concerns with the bill, beginning with what he said was a complete lack of GOP input, despite Biden's promise to work across the aisle.

As for the bill's particulars, Hern is especially troubled with the plan to increase and extend federal unemployment: from $300/week to $400/week, through the end of August.

Federal benefits are currently set to expire in about two weeks. Although Hern doesn't want people to go from $300 to zero, he thinks benefits should be phased out, starting now.

"We need to put Americans back to work -- make America tired again," Hern stated. "That means we cannot incentivize workers to stay out of the work force -- let's not waste anymore taxpayer dollars than we have to."

Hern, Rep. Markwayne Mullin, (R) OK-2; Rep. Frank Lucas, (R) OK-3; Rep. Tom Cole, (R) OK-4; and Rep. Stephanie Bice, (R) OK-5; all voted no.

The bill, H.R. 1319, passed 219-212. Later Saturday morning, Biden urged the Senate to take it up quickly.

"We have no time to waste," said the president. "If we act now, decisively, quickly and boldly, we can finally get ahead of this virus. We can finally get our economy moving again."

The bill contains $350 billion in aid for state and local governments, each state getting a base of $500 million and then an additional amount based on how severe the jobless rate is in the state.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt thinks that's unfair and punishes states like Oklahoma that took what he calls a "more measured" approach to the pandemic.

Stitt and 21 other governors issued a statement, saying in part:

"A state’s ability to keep businesses open and people employed should not be a penalizing factor when distributing funds. If Congress is going to provide aid to states, it should be on an equitable population basis.”

Another controversial aspect of the bill -- a item that critics said has nothing to do with COVID relief -- would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

It was included in the version the House approved, despite a ruling late last week by the Senate parliamentarian that it fails the "Byrd rule" and thus cannot be included in the version the Senate will consider.

In choosing to the use the budget reconciliation process to approve the American Rescue Plan, Democratic leaders accepted the risk that certain parts of the bill might be disqualified for not meeting the definition of a "budget item" in exchange for only needing a simple majority for passage.