Wisconsin congressmen weigh in on $1.9T Covid relief bill poised to pass House on partisan vote

MADISON, Wis. — The House of Representatives is poised to push through a massive pandemic relief bill Friday night that would send thousands in stimulus checks and child tax credits to families and billions to communities and businesses around the country.

The bill can be divided into three broad areas, with more than $1 trillion in direct relief to individuals and families including $1,400 stimulus checks to individuals making less than $75,000 a year, $400 billion to aid with vaccinations and Covid-19 testing, and another $440 billion in aid for businesses, state, tribal and local governments.

It’s expected to pass on partisan lines, after Republicans have widely condemned the legislation for its broad spending.

“I am opposed to the Covid bill that we’re looking at tonight,” Rep. Bryan Steil (R-WI) told News 3 Now on Friday. “I’ve been clear; what I think we should be doing is provided relief targeted to individuals who’ve been impacted by coronavirus through no fault of their own.”

Democrats, however, argue that this level of spending should have been accomplished long ago under the Trump administration in order to get the country back on its feet.

“The only entity that can put the money into the economy the way we need to, facing a once in a century pandemic, is the federal government,” Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) said.  “Not doing enough, we’ve been told by almost every economist of any political ideology, doesn’t do the job.”

Unemployment benefits under the American Rescue Plan would increase the federal benefit from $300 to $400 a week and extend that through the end of August. Currently, millions would lose that benefit in March.

A ruling Thursday night from the non-partisan Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough said the $15-an-hour minimum wage included in the House’s version of the bill could not be kept in a Senate bill. The ruling relates to a complicate set of rules regarding what can be passed under the budget reconciliation process.

Democrats are using reconciliation to pass elements of President Biden’s agenda including the Covid-19 relief bill, because it allows lawmakers to bypass the 60-vote threshold needed to break a filibuster by allowing a simple majority vote. Democrats control 50 out of the Senate’s 50 seats, with Vice President Kamala Harris holding the tie-breaking vote as Senate president. That control provides the simply majority needed to pass some types of legislation without being subjected to a bill-killing filibuster. Both parties have frequently used the reconciliation process to pass legislation, including President Donald Trump’s 2017 tax cuts and President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

Some Democrats are calling to fire the parliamentarian, like Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn) in a tweet on Thursday. Others are pushing for lawmakers to ignore the ruling, although White House chief of staff Ron Klain has publicly ruled out that option and said that Harris will not disregard the decision.

Rep. Pocan is one of those lawmakers, telling News 3 Now that he disagreed with the ruling and wanted to see the Senate bypass it.

“I would hope  that they would override the parliamentarian,” he said. “The parliamentarian is entitled to their opinion, but as an unelected official, that’s not as strong an opinion as members of the Senate.”

Republican Congressman Bryan Steil (WI-01) however called the process “inside baseball” designed to push a partisan vote.

“I think in particular as related to a major national crisis like coronavirus, we’re best served when both parties come together to solve a problem,” he noted.

Democrats want a final version of the bill on President Biden’s desk by mid-March to ensure expanded federal unemployment benefits continue uninterrupted.