KEY POINTS

  • Senator Johnson forced clerks to read through the 628-page legislation
  • The move delayed the 20-hour debate on the relief package
  • Republicans are expected to introduce hundreds of amendments to the legislation

Senate Republicans on Thursday afternoon delayed the passage of President Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief bill and another round of $1,400 stimulus checks as Democrats raced to enact the package before the March 14 deadline.

The Senate took a major step Thursday toward passing the $1.9 trillion relief bill after the chamber voted to start debate on the rescue package, clearing a path for its approval as early as the weekend. Following a party-line vote in the evenly divided Senate, Vice President Kamala Harris needed to break a 50-50 tie.

However, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., forced Senate clerks to read through the 628-page legislation on the floor. 

Senators normally waive the reading of legislation on the floor, but several Republican senators — including Mitt Romney of Utah, and James Lankford of Oklahoma, said they supported Johnson’s move. 

Johnson said he only wanted to “educate” Americans on the contents of the sweeping relief package. Senate clerks would likely need at least 10 hours to read through the bill, which includes provisions for $1,400 checks for individuals and $2,800 for couples.  

“I just objected to skipping past the reading of the Democrats’ 628-page bill that was just introduced minutes ago,” the Wisconsin Republican wrote on Twitter. “If they’re going to add nearly $2T to the national debt at least we should know what’s in the bill.”

Democrats argued that Johnson’s request for a reading was merely a political stunt. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the process was just “delaying the inevitable.”

"It will accomplish little more than a few sore throats for the Senate clerks, who work very hard, day-in, day-out, to help the Senate function," the New York Democrat added

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday slammed the $1.9 trillion legislation, calling it “ill-suited” to give relief to Americans. 

"The real tragedy here is not Senate process. It's how ill-suited this bill is to what Americans need right now,” the Kentucky senator said. 

The chamber is expected to begin up to 20 hours of debate on the bill after the clerks finish the reading. The debate will be followed by a period in which senators can propose amendments to the $1.9 trillion package. 

The Republican lawmakers are expected to offer hundreds of amendments on controversial spending issues, including the $350 billion funding for state and local governments and the weekly federal unemployment benefits. 

Democrats hope to approve the bill through a budget reconciliation process and have Biden sign the package into law before unemployment insurance expires on March 14. 

Lawmakers in the US Congress are considering a $1.9 trillion Covid relief package, but the plan hit a snag when a Senate official ruled that a minimum wage hike to $15 an hour, a Democratic priority, can not be included Lawmakers in the US Congress are considering a $1.9 trillion Covid relief package, but the plan hit a snag when a Senate official ruled that a minimum wage hike to $15 an hour, a Democratic priority, can not be included Photo: AFP / ROBERTO SCHMIDT