The Senate finally began its deliberations on President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package Thursday afternoon, with Vice-President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote to open debate. Biden said he hoped for “quick action” in the Senate after the bill passed the House early Saturday morning, and Democrats aim to have the bill on his desk before March 14, when the current federal unemployment benefits expire.
But Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin, quickly threw a wrench in the Democrats’ timetable, forcing the Senate clerks to read out the bill in full, the text of which comes to a hefty 628 pages. The entire reading is estimated to take between eight to ten hours, which will be followed by 20 hours of debate on the bill.
Johnson had announced his intentions a day earlier, and said he would stay on the floor to make sure the entire bill was read. “It’s not about delaying things,” he told Politico. “It’s about educating the public about what this bill is and what this bill isn’t. And it isn’t a COVID relief bill.”
However, Axios reported that the maneuver is part of a Republican effort to force Democrats to “defend several parts the GOP considers unnecessary and partisan.” The GOP’s procedural stalling is unlikely to significantly change the legislation, but it will “provide plenty of ammunition for future campaign messaging.”
On Johnson’s plan, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor, “We are delighted that the senator from Wisconsin wants to give the American people another opportunity to hear what’s in the American Rescue Plan. We Democrats want America to hear what’s in the plan.”
Speaking to Newsy, Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia recalled Democrats considering a similar move against Republicans when they tried to pass their 2017 tax-reform bill, though they decided not to.
“Frankly, that is only designed to annoy everyone. It’s an annoyance to the staffers. It’s an annoyance to the opposing party. I know from talking to Republican senators, they’re not happy with it either,” Kaine said.
He added, “A senator has a unilateral right to be annoying if he or she chooses.”