Kamala Harris breaks Senate tie to begin debate on Joe Biden’s COVID stimulus bill


Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., forced the Senate to begin reading President Joe Biden’s entire $1.9 trillion COVID bill aloud on the Senate floor, threatening to further delay the bill’s passage as the Senate clerk reads through the hundreds of pages of the bill.

Johnson said his tactic was about “educating” the American public on what was in the $1.9 trillion package, which he has derided as full of provisions unrelated to COVID relief. The entire process could take at least 10 hours.

He told reporters Thursday he felt badly for the Senate clerks who are going to “have to read it,” but it was “important” because “so often we rush these massive bills” which few lawmakers had time to read.

The Senate voted earlier to begin debate on the bill.

Senators normally waive the reading of amendments or legislation on the Senate floor, but Johnson invoked a procedural move to compel the reading of the entire bill.

Republican senators signaled their support for Johnson’s move. Asked about Johnson’s plans, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, told reporters “I do” support them. And Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., said he was “absolutely supportive” of the move because few senators had read the whole text.

Vice President Kamala Harris listens as President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting about cancer in the Oval Office of the White House on Wednesday.

Vice President Kamala Harris listens as President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting about cancer in the Oval Office of the White House on Wednesday.

Once the reading of the legislation is complete, the Senate will start 20 hours of debate on the bill, aiming to pass it by the end of the week.

Democrats aim to move the bill through Congress by March 14, when a federal boost to unemployment benefits expires. The House will have to pass it again next week because of the changes made by the Senate.

– Nicholas Wu

Senate votes to begin debate on stimulus bill

The Senate voted Thursday afternoon to begin debate on President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 bill, setting the stage for its final passage in the chamber later this week.

Vice President Kamala Harris, in her role as president of the Senate, broke a 50-50 tie to send the bill to debate.

“It’s time to move forward with this legislation which will be one of the largest antipoverty bills in recent history,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday.

The procedural vote means the Senate will now begin up to 20 hours of debate on the bill followed by a period where senators can introduce an unlimited number of amendments to the legislation.

Republicans have threatened to introduce a plethora of amendments designed to make Democrats take votes on controversial issues like the reopening of in-person classes in schools.

There are few other substantive changes expected to the rest of the legislation.

Senate Democrats reached a deal with Biden Wednesday to limit the eligibility for the package’s $1,400 stimulus checks, phasing them out at $80,000 of income for individuals and $160,000 for couples.

– Nicholas Wu

Vice President Kamala Harris arrives to break the tie on a procedural vote as the Senate works on the Democrats' $1.9 trillion COVID relief package, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March 4, 2021.

Vice President Kamala Harris arrives to break the tie on a procedural vote as the Senate works on the Democrats’ $1.9 trillion COVID relief package, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March 4, 2021.

Senate awaits debate on Biden’s COVID bill, Sen. Ron Johnson threatens to slow process

WASHINGTON – Senators await a final price tag on President Joe Biden’s COVID stimulus plan Thursday so they can start debating the measure Democrats are eager to pass by the end of next week.

The Senate had been set to begin debate Wednesday on the legislation, but the Senate was still waiting for the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation to estimate the total cost of the Senate version of the bill, according to a senior Democratic aide speaking on condition of anonymity.

Under the special rules used to pass the bill, the total cost must come in under the $1.9 trillion authorized in previous legislation. The version of the bill passed by the House went billions of dollars over, so Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., would have to introduce a Senate version of the bill to bring it in line.

COVID stimulus: How much money will your state get if Biden’s COVID-19 relief bill passes?

More: ‘Seconds mattered’: In Capitol under siege, DC National Guard waited 3 hours for Pentagon approval

More: House cancels Thursday session after police warn of ‘possible plot to breach the Capitol’

If the process moves forward Thursday, senators would begin 20 hours of debate, a process at least one Republican wants to make longer.

Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson threatened Wednesday to force a reading of the entire bill. Senators normally forgo the reading out loud of an entire bill when it comes up for debate, but Johnson said he would force the nearly 700-page bill to be read aloud, a process he said could take over 10 hours.

The Senate is set to stay in session Thursday even as the House canceled its Thursday session amid a heightened security threat to the Capitol. The United States Capitol Police said Wednesday they were aware of a “possible plot to breach the Capitol by an identified militia group,” and a notice sent to all congressional offices said the agency was bolstering its security presence on Capitol Hill.

March 4 has been highlighted by the debunked QAnon conspiracy as the “true inauguration day” for former President Donald Trump. It is the date presidents were inaugurated on until 1937.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told reporters he had heard “rumors” about March 4 but had not been briefed on threats. “In light of what we went through on Jan. 6, it’s understandable that people are concerned,” he said, referring to the riots at the Capitol.

He was not going to “second-guess” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to cancel the remaining House session, but the second-ranking Senate Democrat noted Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer had not reached the same conclusion.

Contributing: Jeanine Santucci

More: $1,400 checks in COVID-19 relief bill would phase out at $80,000 instead of $100,000, according to deal between Biden and Dems

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID stimulus: Harris breaks Senate tie to start debate on bill


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