WASHINGTON — With the U.S. House expected to pass a $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue package on Friday, opposition to the plan is hardening among Republican senators, setting up a strictly partisan vote on President Joe Biden’s first, and arguably most consequential, legislative initiative.
As chances of a broad-based compromise dwindle, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has been able to keep his 50-member caucus united around a simple argument: Democrats are trying to spend too much money on items not directly related to pandemic relief.
“Even mainstream liberal economists agree that our country does not need another massive firehose of borrowed money,” McConnell said on the Senate floor this week. “This isn’t April 2020. This is a different chapter.”
GOP senators who are generally perceived as more persuadable to negotiation, like Mitt Romney of Utah and the retiring Rob Portman of Ohio, are squarely in line with McConnell, echoing his complaints about the bill’s hundreds of billions of dollars in “wasteful spending.”
But Democrats have resigned themselves to pursuing partisan passage of the plan largely because they don’t believe Republicans would ultimately get on board even if they offered a compromise.
Rep. John Yarmuth, a Kentucky Democrat and the House Budget Committee chairman, said his party is heeding the lessons from its 2009 experience on the Affordable Care Act, when he believes the GOP used the compromise card as a delay tactic.
“We kept saying to Republicans, ‘What do you want? What changes do you want?’ And they’d suggest a change and we’d either make it or say, ‘If we make it are you going to vote for the bill?' and they’d say ‘No.’”
“This is dangerous turf,” Yarmuth added. “We could’ve spent months trying to figure out how to compromise and get a few Republican votes, but we have some very significant deadlines coming up.”
Democrats have stated they will aim to send the legislation to Biden’s desk by March 14 before unemployment payments expire. In pursuing a special procedure called budget reconciliation, they are anticipating to win only a simple majority in the Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris potentially casting the tie-breaking vote.
The existing package includes hundreds of billions to help vaccine distribution and bolster state and local government budget shortfalls, as well as $1,400 checks to individuals.