U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today discussed Senate Democrats’ push to include a liberal wish list of agenda items in their partisan COVID relief package. Thune noted that of the five COVID relief bills that have already become law, all of them passed with strong bipartisan support. He urged Democrats to put the American people first by working in a bipartisan way to pursue targeted COVID relief that meets the needs of the American people without unnecessarily adding to the national debt.
Excerpt of Thune’s remarks:
“Mr. President, in his inaugural address, President Biden spoke about his desire to unify.
“‘Today, on this January day, my whole soul is in this,’ he said, ‘Bringing America together. Uniting our people. And uniting our nation.’
“Admirable words, Mr. President.
“But words have to be met with action.
“And right now we’re not seeing much of an attempt to unify from the president or his party.
“In fact, we’re seeing pretty much the opposite.
“Democrats have made it very clear that they are determined to pass another COVID bill on a purely partisan basis – which is particularly disappointing because up until now, COVID relief has been a bipartisan process.
“To date, Congress has passed five COVID relief bills, and every single one of those bills was overwhelmingly bipartisan.
“Last year, Senate Democrats made it very clear that they thought the minority should have a voice in COVID relief and that any legislation should reflect the thoughts of both parties.
“The Democrat leader filibustered the CARES Act – our largest COVID relief bill – multiple times until he got a version he was satisfied with.
“But now that Democrats are in the majority, apparently they’ve decided that it’s their way or the highway.
“Forget the fact that the Senate is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats – Democrats are determined to ensure that Republicans (and the Americans they represent) don’t have a voice in this bill.
“Mr. President, Democrats’ move to use reconciliation to force through a purely partisan COVID bill might – might – be understandable if Republicans had made it clear that we opposed doing anything else on COVID.
“But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“Republicans have made it clear that we are willing to work with Democrats on additional targeted relief.
“Just weeks ago, 10 Republican senators put together a plan and met with President Biden for two hours to discuss a bipartisan agreement.
“But while the president certainly listened to them graciously, it quickly became clear that their efforts didn’t matter.
“It didn’t matter how willing Republicans were to negotiate, Democrats had no intention of reaching an agreement.
“They wanted to go it alone, and they weren’t going to let Republicans stop them.
“Mr. President, in a speech a few days ago, President Biden acknowledged that people have criticized his $1.9 trillion plan but asked, and I quote, ‘What would they have me cut? What would they have me leave out?’
“Well, Mr. President, let me offer a few ideas.
“For starters, it might be a good idea to cut out the sections of the Democrats’ bill that have nothing to do with combating COVID.
“Democrats are calling this a COVID relief bill, but in actual fact much of this bill has little to do with the coronavirus.
“Less than 10 percent of the bill is directly related to combating COVID.
“If President Biden wants to know what sections of his bill to cut, I might suggest starting with the bill’s minimum wage hike.
“The Democrat bill would more than double the federal minimum wage – at the cost of an estimated 1.4 million jobs.
“That would be problematic enough at a time when we’re already dealing with substantial job losses.
“It’s even worse when you realize that the people most likely to lose their jobs as a result of this hike would be lower-income workers.
“I would also suggest that the president cut his $86 billion bailout of multiemployer pension plans, which has nothing to do with emergency COVID relief.
“The president could also consider cutting his $350 billion slush fund for states and localities – which would be used mostly to reward states that shut down their businesses for extended periods and, therefore, have higher unemployment rates.
“It’s become clear that a majority of states are doing okay financially, despite the pandemic.
“A number of states actually saw higher tax revenues in 2020, and a majority of states have the resources they need to weather the rest of this crisis.
“$350 billion far exceeds projected state need.
“And while we’re on that topic, Mr. President, the economic stimulus provided by President Biden’s bill in general far exceeds the economic need and may actually harm the economy.
“Even without a dollar more of stimulus spending, our economy is expected to grow at a robust 3.7 percent in 2021.
“The massive amount of spending the president is proposing to inject into the economy runs the very real risk of overheating the economy and driving up inflation.
“And you don’t have to take my word for it.
“Even some liberal economists have expressed their concern over the size of Democrats’ coronavirus legislation and the damage it could do to the economy.
“Then of course there’s the money the bill includes for schools.
“While children in some places – like South Dakota – are in school, we need to get all kids back to in-person learning.
“In-person learning is important for kids’ academic, social, and emotional health, and as Republicans have demonstrated, we want to ensure schools have the resources they need to get back into the classroom safely.
“Our previous coronavirus bills contained more than $100 billion for education, and I think it’s safe to say that every Republican would support additional dollars if needed.
“But the fact of the matter is, schools still have billions of dollars from previous coronavirus legislation that remains unspent.
“And the Biden bill would appropriate an additional $129 billion for schools, that schools would get whether or not they get kids back into the classroom.
“On top of that, most of that money would go to schools beginning next year and stretching all the way to 2028 – in other words, long after the pandemic will be over.
“In fact, less than 5 percent of the education spending would occur this year.
“Ultimately, the Biden bill’s school funding ends up looking less like a plan to get our kids back in schools and more like caving in to the teachers’ unions.
“So, Mr. President, if President Biden would like to know what to cut, I’d suggest he start with some of the things I’ve highlighted.
“And I would ask that he and the Democrat leadership abandon their plan to shove through a bloated, partisan bill and start trying for the unity the president has talked about.
“The president could show that he really meant what he said in his inaugural address by sitting down with Republicans to develop targeted relief legislation.
“We’re ready to come to the table.
“The ball is in the president’s court.”