Lawmakers are continuing to negotiate the various aspects of a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief proposal that critics say contains very little actual relief related to the ongoing public health crisis.
While the bill appears poised to be approved in both chambers of Congress, the final package is likely to lack at least of few provisions deemed priorities by Democratic legislators, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
Bipartisan debate continues
The Senate parliamentarian recently ruled that two specific spending proposals were ineligible for inclusion given the special procedure being used to move the bill through the upper chamber on the basis of a simple majority vote.
As a sort of nonpartisan procedural referee on Capitol Hill, the parliamentarian had previously raised the ire of some Democrats by declaring a proposed hike in the federal minimum wage to be ineligible to be included in the so-called budget reconciliation process because it was not directly tied to taxing or spending.
A subsequent ruling similarly struck down the inclusion of two transportation infrastructure projects included in the proposal, again for violating the strict limitations of legislation passed through budget reconciliation. Democrats have opted to use the strict procedure to avoid opposition from Republicans who view the package as a partisan spending spree.
The first of the recently denied projects included $1.5 million intended for the Seaway International Bridge connecting New York state with Ontario, Canada.
A second axed project called for a $100 million extension of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system in the San Francisco area, which includes Pelosi’s home district. While the scope of the project would have actually been a neighboring district, critics nonetheless slammed it as a “pet project” benefiting Pelosi’s agenda and constituency.
“That’s what I’ll have to do”
The parliamentarian’s decision was just the latest example of a proposal that remains in constant flux as negotiations continue. Those debates are not just between Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill, but also between congressional Democrats and the White House.
For his part, President Joe Biden has emphasized passage of this massive bill as a top priority as he urges Democrats to accept certain limitations and compromises in a bid to garner enough support for its approval.
Among those compromises is the phasing out of $1,400 stimulus checks to individuals earning more than $80,000 per year or $160,000 for couples filing jointly.
Reports indicate that Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) plans to insist on a formal reading of the entirety of the 500-plus pages in the bill before the debate period can begin, giving American taxpayers a clear idea of the various spending measures contained therein.
He explained the decision in a statement, asserting: “That’s what I’ll have to do. It’s not about delaying things. 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.”