Democrats take step toward bypassing Republicans on COVID-19 relief

Washington: Top Democrats in the US Senate and House of Representatives filed a joint $US1.9 trillion ($2.3 trillion) budget measure on Monday, in a step toward bypassing Republicans on COVID-19 relief, even as President Joe Biden met with Republican senators who said they would press forward on a compromise effort.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced the plan to file a fiscal-year 2021 budget measure in the Senate and House, saying it would allow Congress to fast-track a coronavirus package for passage by both chambers.

The filing came as Republican in-fighting over far-right Georgia Republican’s embrace of conspiracy theories prompted Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to denounced newly elected Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene on Monday, calling her a “cancer for the Republican Party”.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.Credit:Bloomberg

With Republicans pushing back on Biden’s $US1.9 trillion ($2.4 trillion) COVID-19 relief proposal, the budget measure would allow Democrats to bypass a 60-vote threshold in the closely divided Senate and enact coronavirus legislation with a simple majority through a procedure called reconciliation.

It would mark the first time congressional Democrats used the manoeuvre to flex their legislative muscle since winning razor-thin control of the Senate.

The 100-seat Senate is divided 50-50, with Vice-President Kamala Harris holding the tie-breaking vote to give Democrats the majority.

US President Joe Biden.Credit:AP

Schumer spoke ahead of the Oval Office meeting among Biden, Harris and 10 Republican senators, who have proposed a scaled-down $US618 billion relief package.

The “frank and useful” discussion had no breakthroughs, Republican Senator Susan Collins told reporters afterward, but she said the sides would keep talking.

“I wouldn’t say that we came together on a package tonight,” she said, adding that “no one expected that in a two-hour meeting.”

What “we did agree to do was to follow up and talk further at the staff level and amongst ourselves and with the president and vice president on how we can continue to work together on this very important issue,” Collins said.

Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.Credit:AP

Swift congressional action to address the pandemic is a top Biden goal and the president has voiced an interest in working with congressional Republicans. But the White House has shown no sign of accepting the Republican proposal.

“The risk is not that it is too big … the risk is that it is too small. And that remains his view, and it’s one he’ll certainly express today,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said before the discussion.

COVID-19 has claimed more than 440,000 lives in the United States, the most of any country, and cost millions of Americans their jobs.

A power struggle within the Republican party continued with Senator McConnell calling out newly elected Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene for her embrace of conspiracy theories.

“Somebody who’s suggested that perhaps no airplane hit the Pentagon on 9/11, that horrifying school shootings were pre-staged, and that the Clintons crashed JFK Jr.’s airplane is not living in reality,” said McConnell said.

“This has nothing to do with the challenges facing American families or the robust debates on substance that can strengthen our party.”

The statement comes as House Democrats are mounting an effort to formally rebuke Greene, who has a history of making racist remarks, embracing conspiracy theories and endorsing violence directed at Democrats. It also puts pressure on House Republican leaders to discipline her.

Democrats have teed up action Wednesday to send a resolution to the House floor that would strip Greene of assignments on the House education and budget committees, if House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, doesn’t do so first.

“It is my hope and expectation that Republicans will do the right thing and hold Rep. Greene accountable, and we will not need to consider this resolution,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. “But we are prepared to do so if necessary.”

Some Democrats have called for going further and expelling Greene from the House — an unlikely outcome that would require backing from Republicans, since expulsion requires a two-thirds vote. Another option is censure.

Democrats’ willingness to act against a member of the opposing party underscores their desire to confront far-right politicians, like Greene, who are closely aligned with some of former President Donald Trump’s fringe supporters, including extremist groups that were involved in the violent Capitol insurrection. It also shines a light on the GOP’s reluctance to punish Trump supporters in their ranks for fear of alienating some of the former president’s most ardent voters.

“If Republicans won’t police their own, the House must step in,” said Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who is sponsoring the measure to remove Greene from the committees.

In a tweet over the weekend, Greene sounded a defiant tone. She also said she had spoken to Trump and was “grateful for his support”.

“I will never back down and will stand up against the never ending blood thirsty mob,” she tweeted.

Reuters, AP

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