Senate Republicans are openly plotting how to make passing vital COVID-19 relief—which is still supported by 77% of all voters, including 59% of Republicans—complete hell for Democrats. That includes Sen. Ron Genius Johnson of Wisconsin proposing they extend the voting for “days on end.” There’s a looming deadline of March 14 when unemployment benefits start running out, but a sooner deadline because the Department of Labor needs some time to authorize the payments and states need time to reconfigure their systems to send them. And Johnson wants to put all that in jeopardy. He wants to delay checks landing in people’s bank accounts.
Speaking of checks in people’s bank accounts, fewer people will be seeing them now as the “moderate” Democrats secured a “win” from President Biden and leadership: the income cap for the survival checks is now going to be scaled back. Instead of payments gradually reducing for people making $75,000 to $100,000, they will now be cut off at $80,000, and $120,000 for heads of households. Instead of being cut off at $200,000 for joint filers, they’ll stop at $160,000. This makes it all the more important for people who lost income in 2020 to file their taxes as soon as possible, so the IRS uses 2020 instead of 2019 income to make the determination of who gets what. The only good side of this concession is apparently that the moderates gave up their effort to cut the weekly unemployment insurance (UI) boost in the bill from $400 to $300. That supplement to UI will reportedly be the same as in the House bill, $400.
That’s crucial, because the push by a handful of conservative Democrats to cut the weekly bonus was jeopardizing House support for the bill, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi has a very thin three-vote margin. Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who chairs the House Progressive Caucus, spoke for many progressives in both the House and Senate when she told NPR “If this package were to get significantly watered down by Senate Democrats, that would be a problem for progressives in the House.”
The loss of the federal minimum wage boost to $15/hour in the House bill, which Biden pulled after the Senate parliamentarian advised that it didn’t meet her interpretation of the rules for reconciliation bills, has put many progressives in the House on the edge. With the promise of the $2,000 check for everyone that won two seats in the Georgia Senate watered down to $1,400 and then strictly limited to definitely not everyone, a further cut of UI benefits could make Pelosi’s job of getting the bill over the final hurdle that much harder.
One of the things those Democrats wanted to secure by making cuts elsewhere was more funding for broadband infrastructure. CNN reports that it is likely to be included, though aides and senators are still working on the bill, which is still scheduled to get a procedural vote on the floor Wednesday in order to start the 20 hours of debate before a vote-a-rama of amendments begins Thursday evening. The negotiations could push that back, though, if it appears Majority Leader Chuck Schumer won’t have a finalized bill by Thursday.
He can still start the clock ticking on its consideration Wednesday, even if it’s not finished, but that’s slightly risky if every committee hasn’t signed off. Further complicating the negotiations is that under the reconciliation process they are using, each committee has a strict cap on what it can authorize, and as chairman of the Budget Committee, Sen. Bernie Sanders has to sign off on changes.
Back to the poison vote-a-rama that the Republicans are promising, Biden held a private call with Democrats on Tuesday, in which he “emphasized the need for Democrats to remain united around a bill that has drawn wide bipartisan support outside Washington, counseling lawmakers to move swiftly and reject so-called poison pill amendments from Republicans intended to kill it,” according to sources to The New York Times.
Republicans think they can get “gotcha” moments out of this debate, even when they are attempting to delay wildly popular legislation that gives people money—and, just as important, coronavirus vaccine in their arms before summer. “It’s all about TV commercials,” Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas told CNN. “Make people accountable for their votes. There is not much they can do if they are determined to hang together there is nothing we can do to change the outcome. If they really want to do this, they can probably get it done.” They are still dramatically misreading the moment, thinking they can use the same kind of tactics to poison this bill that they used on Obamacare a decade ago.
From the very beginning of this crisis, Republicans have underestimated the seriousness of it. Through climbing infection rates and death tolls, a plurality of Republicans have remained “not concerned at all” about the spread of the disease. That’s reflected—amplified!—by the people they’ve elected to Congress.
Whatever amendments the Republicans bring, even if they get a few Democrats for majority support, can simply be swept away at the end of the voting by Schumer. He can introduce the final amendment that would strip out any of those amendments, and do it with simple majority support.
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