- Republicans sought to drag out the proceedings on the Democratic stimulus bill on Thursday.
- Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin forced a reading of the 628-page relief legislation on the Senate floor.
- Democrats brushed aside the reading as a political stunt, and aim to pass the bill sometime this week.
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The Senate voted along party lines to kick off debate on the $1.9 trillion stimulus plan on Thursday afternoon.
But Republicans appear intent on dragging out the proceedings to make it as painful as possible on Democrats advancing the measure without GOP support.
The protracted debate could mean Senate passage of the bill could slip sometime into the weekend. Democrats are racing to enact the bill before a March 14 deadline when enhanced unemployment insurance will expire.
Shortly after the vote, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin objected to a motion that would dispense with a reading of the legislation. The move set up a reading of the 628-page bill by Senate clerks, which could take several hours.
—Senator Ron Johnson (@SenRonJohnson) March 4, 2021
"If they're going to add nearly $2T to the national debt at least we should know what's in the bill," the Wisconsin senator wrote in a tweet.
For at least two hours on Thursday afternoon, Johnson was present in the Senate chamber. He occasionally took notes on a legal pad as clerks read the relief legislation aloud.
The reading was the first step in an apparent GOP bid to slow down passage of the Democratic rescue plan. Democrats are employing a tactic called reconciliation to bypass Republicans and approve the legislation with a simple majority of 51 votes.
Democrats brushed the reading aside, arguing that it amounted to little more than a political stunt.
"We all know this will merely delay the inevitable," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday. "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."
Republicans have been staunchly opposed to the measure, contending the bill costs too much and they had little input into its design.
"The real tragedy here is not Senate process," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday. "It's how ill-suited this bill is to what Americans need right now."
Once the Senate clerks wrap up with the reading, the chamber is expected to start 20 hours of debate. When that concludes, a "vote-a-rama" will get under way.
Republicans are preparing to offer hundreds of amendments to the relief bill. Some of these may deal with the $350 billion in state and local funding, and a push to scale back unemployment benefits. Democrats and Republicans will vote on many of them, but likely not all.
"Historically what's happened is... we offer a couple of hundred amendments on the Republican side," Johnson told reporters today. "And we get a couple of dozen voted on and people tire out. I'm coming up with a process that keeps people from tiring out. I'm getting sign ups. I'm laying out a three-shift schedule."
"I think it's important for the American people and our Democratic colleagues to recognize that when they're going to propose spending money that's not needed and that's wasteful," Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah told reporters on Thursday. "And they lard up a piece of legislation that we're not going to just sit back and take it that we're going to fight back."