U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today discussed the Democrats’ $1.9 trillion COVID-19 spending bill and emphasized that Democrats are using this partisan process to advance liberal priorities, including a bailout for multiemployer pension plans, climate change and other environmental policy issues, and a new taxpayer-funded leave program for government employees with no requirement that it be used for COVID-19.
Thune’s remarks below (as prepared for delivery):
“Mr. President, less than two months ago, at his inauguration, President Biden spoke about his deep commitment to bringing Americans together.
“Today, the Senate will consider the first major bill of his presidency – an intensely partisan piece of legislation.
“Why is the bill before us today so partisan, Mr. President?
“It’s not because Republicans were unwilling to cooperate with Democrats on COVID legislation.
“In fact, Republicans made it very clear that we were willing to work with Democrats.
“No, the bill before us today is so heavily partisan because Democrats didn’t want to work with Republicans.
“Democrats saw an opportunity to use the COVID crisis to advance a whole host of liberal priorities.
“And they were afraid that allowing Republicans to participate in the process would mean that some of their pet projects would be excluded – or that they would have to pare back some of their more profligate spending.
“So Democrats decided to use reconciliation to ensure that Republicans wouldn’t be able to interfere with Democrats’ legislation.
“And let’s be very clear about the nature of that legislation, Mr. President.
“Democrats would like to present this as a COVID relief bill.
“Yes, there are a handful of true COVID priorities in this legislation – like more money for vaccines and coronavirus treatment.
“But the bulk of this bill is either non-COVID-related or ostensibly COVID-related but actually either unnecessary or excessive.
“On the non-COVID front, there’s the $86 billion bailout for multiemployer pension plans.
“The billions for climate change and other environmental policy issues.
“A new taxpayer-funded leave program for government employees with no requirement that it be used for COVID-19.
“The version of the bill that came over from the House contained such non-COVID-related measures as $100 million for an underground rail project in the House speaker’s home state and $1.5 million for a bridge in the Democrat leader’s home state.
“Plus, a massive increase in the federal minimum wage that would cost an estimated 1.4 million jobs and potentially devastate small businesses already reeling from the effects of the coronavirus.
“Then there are the ostensibly COVID-related measures, like $350 billion for states.
“The big problem there?
“States don’t need anywhere near that much money to weather the rest of the pandemic.
“The vast majority of states are not in crisis.
“And rescuing those states that are in crisis would not take anywhere close to $350 billion.
“Democrats are going to spend hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars on an unnecessary giveaway to states.
“On top of that, that giveaway is heavily weighted in favor of blue states.
“The distribution formula is designed to heavily favor Democratic states.
“Then there’s the money for schools.
“Now, Republicans have been very willing to give schools money to help them reopen.
“In fact, last year Republicans voted for $68 billion for K-12 schools.
“At this point, Mr. President, that money is sufficient.
“Schools have spent just $5 billion of the $68 billion we’ve already provided.
“Let me repeat that.
“So far, schools have spent just $5 billion – less than 10 percent – of the $68 billion that has already been given to them.
“Yet Democrats’ bill would appropriate an additional $129 billion for schools – 95 percent of which would be spent after this year.
“Some of the money wouldn’t be spent for another five years or more.
“Do Democrats really expect Americans to believe that school dollars that won’t be spent until 2027 or 2028 are urgently needed coronavirus response dollars?
“This is a pattern with this bill though, Mr. President.
“We just passed a large coronavirus relief bill in December – the fifth coronavirus relief bill Congress has passed.
“A lot of the money from that bill hasn’t been spent yet.
“In fact, a lot of money from earlier coronavirus bills still hasn’t been spent.
“Yet Democrats are throwing massive additional amounts of money at various recipients, with no clear idea of whether or not that money will be needed – or, in some cases, when we know very well that that money isn’t needed.
“Mr. President, Republicans will be introducing amendments to Democrats’ bill.
“I’m introducing an amendment to undo the Biden administration’s freeze on the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, which has provided support for farmers and ranchers who have been hit hard by the pandemic.
“I hope some of my less extreme Democrat colleagues will join Republicans to advance some of our amendments – like Senator Graham’s amendment to change the distribution formula for states to the formula used in the bipartisan CARES Act, so that both red and blue states would get a fair shot at funding, or amendments to remove those provisions that are in no way related to COVID relief.
“Unfortunately, Democrat leaders have made it very clear that they’re not willing to entertain Republican ideas, so I don’t have a lot of confidence that Republican amendments, even if adopted, will end up in the final bill.
“Mr. President, it’s deeply disappointing that pretty much the first thing Democrats did this Congress was to take a bipartisan process and make it partisan.
“All five of the coronavirus bills Congress has passed to date have been bipartisan.
“This bill could have been bipartisan too.
“But Democrats decided that Republicans – and the Americans they represent – should not have a voice in this legislation.
“Is this what the rest of the Biden presidency is going to look like?”