U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today discussed the year-long bipartisan, historic effort to provide much-needed COVID relief to the American people and compared it to the highly partisan and wasteful spending bill that is now making its way through Congress under the guise of a “relief” bill. Thune expressed his frustration with Senate Democrats and discussed how they have chosen partisan politics over bipartisan cooperation, while acknowledging his hope that they will not continue down this path.
Thune’s remarks below (as prepared for delivery):
“Mr. President, less than two months ago, President Biden emphasized a theme of unity at his inauguration.
“‘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 so far, they haven’t been met with much action.
“On the first big legislative test of his presidency – coronavirus legislation – President Biden and Democrats in Congress have pursued a resolutely partisan course.
“They’ve not only failed to invite Republican input in any meaningful way; they’ve deliberately excluded it by passing their coronavirus package using reconciliation.
“This allows them to pass the bill in the Senate by a simple majority vote, instead of requiring the concurrence of 60 senators to move to a vote on the bill.
“Now, Mr. President, Democrats’ decision to use reconciliation might be understandable if Republicans had declared our opposition to any further coronavirus legislation.
“But of course that’s not the case.
“Republicans made it clear that we were willing to work with Democrats on additional coronavirus legislation.
“In fact, 10 Republican senators put together a plan and met with President Biden for two hours to discuss a bipartisan agreement.
“But while the president listened to them graciously, Democrats and the president quickly made it clear that they intended to move forward without Republican input.
“Two days after Republicans met with President Biden, the House passed its partisan budget resolution to pave the way for reconciliation.
“Two days later, the Senate followed suit.
“Clearly there were no plans to let negotiations with Republicans slow down the partisan juggernaut.
“In fact, Democrats have been pretty determined to make sure Republicans don’t have a voice in this legislation.
“During markups of the COVID relief package in House committees, Republicans offered a number of amendments – 245 to be exact.
“Out of those 245 amendments, Democrats accepted exactly one for the final bill.
“Among the amendments House Democrats rejected were commonsense proposals to tie school funding to the reopening of schools, an amendment to unfreeze funding for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program for farmers and ranchers, amendments to target funding to overlooked rural communities, and an amendment to protect health care providers from frivolous lawsuits.
“Mr. President, the one thing that can be said for the House is that at least it gave members a chance to review the bill in committee.
“Here in the Senate, Democrats’ COVID package will come to the floor without any committee consideration.
“Senators are just supposed to accept whatever the House sent over – or whatever changes the Senate Democrat leader makes – minus those items that are excluded from a reconciliation package by Senate budget rules.
“Mr. President, Democrats’ partisan course on COVID legislation 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.
“The Republican-led Senate took up and passed COVID relief legislation by margins of 96 to 1, 90 to 8, 96 to 0, 92 to 6, and by voice vote.
“Back then, of course, Democrats thought that the minority party should have a voice in the process.
“In fact, the Democrat leader filibustered the CARES Act – our largest COVID bill to date – multiple times until he got a version he was satisfied with.
“Now that Democrats are in the majority, however, they’ve decided that minority representation can be dispensed with.
“It’s Democrats’ way or the highway on COVID legislation.
“Republicans – and the Americans they represent – will not be allowed to contribute.
“I guess it’s not surprising, Mr. President.
“After all, if Democrats had pursued a bipartisan process, they would probably have had to eliminate some of the non-COVID-related provisions in this legislation – like the $86 billion bailout of multiemployer pension plans.
“They might have been forced to trim their slush fund for states – and ensure that the distribution formula wasn’t weighted heavily in favor of blue states.
“They might have had to reject a measure to give labor unions and Planned Parenthood access to loans designed to help small businesses.
“They might have had to tie funding for schools to school reopening.
“All of those changes would have made the bill better – but they might not have made Democrat allies as happy.
“Mr. President, this whole process could have been different.
“We could be here today with another bipartisan COVID bill that would speed up vaccination and help our country through the rest of the pandemic.
“Instead, we’re looking at a partisan bill that directs billions of taxpayer dollars to projects and policies that have nothing to do with overcoming COVID.
“Less than two months after the president committed himself to unity at his inauguration, the first major bill of his presidency will be a resolutely partisan piece of legislation.
“I hope this is not a sign of things to come.”