WASHINGTON: Republicans are attacking the Democrats $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package as too costly, economically damaging and overtly partisan, an all-angles attempt to derail new President Joe Bidens top priority as it starts moving through a Congress his party controls only narrowly.
Five House committees worked Wednesday on their pieces of sweeping legislation that would send $1,400 payments to some Americans. It would also provide hundreds of billions for state and local governments and to boost vaccination efforts, raise tax credits for children and increase unemployment benefits. Democratic leaders hope for House passage later this month, with Senate approval and a bill on Bidens desk by mid-March.
This is the moment, said Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., citing the pandemics human and economic toll.
As committees worked, Republicans launched amendments spotlighting what they see as the legislations soft spots. Their themes were clear: Democrats are overspending, hurting workers and employers’ job markets, opening doors to fraud and rewarding political allies allegations that Democrats dismiss as ludicrous.
The proposals signaled that Bidens plan faces solid Republican opposition in a House and Senate where Democrats have few votes to spare, while forcing Democrats to take positions that could tee up GOP campaign ads for the 2022 elections.
There were amendments to reduce the $400 extra in weekly jobless benefits Democrats want to provide through August and exempt the smallest businesses from Democrats plans to gradually raise the minimum wage to $15 hourly from $7.25.
Others would put strings on emergency funds to help schools reopen safely, requiring that schools offer in-person classes or give the money to parents for education savings accounts if they remain closed. Still others would have made sure assistance for renters, homeowners and the airline industry didnt extend long after the pandemic ends, and divided $26 billion for urban transportation systems between cities and rural areas, which many Republicans represent.
I dont know if the White House knows this, but youre supposed to be creating jobs, not killing them, said Texas Rep. Kevin Brady, the top Republican on the Ways and Means panel. He said that while his party has backed over $3 trillion in earlier pandemic relief bills, whatever this rushed, partisan, special interest stimulus package does, it comes with no bipartisan discussion, no opportunity for finding common ground.
Biden campaigned on reuniting a country riven by President Donald Trumps divisive four years. He met two weeks ago with 10 GOP senators to discuss the COVID-19 plan in a session that seemed cordial but has produced no visible movement.
Democrats say attempts to compromise with Republicans wasted time and resulted in a package that proved too small when President Barack Obama sought an economic stimulus compromise in 2009, his first year. They want to finish this initial Biden goal without any stumbles and before emergency jobless benefits expire on March 14.