- Biden’s $US1.9 ($2) trillion stimulus may be approved by Congress on Wednesday, likely with zero GOP votes.
- Tight congressional math made it difficult to get this far, and Republicans fought back.
- But despite GOP stalling tactics, Biden is poised to seal a major victory.
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President Joe Biden is set to achieve his first big legislative win on Wednesday, with the House of Representatives poised to give final approval to his $US1.9 ($2) trillion stimulus bill.
Republicans opposed the bill, saying it was excessively costly and unnecessary, and resorted to spoiling measures to slow its progress.
The tactics were also a signal that Republicans disapproved of Democrats deciding to bypass them in the Senate and pass the bill in the chamber using a mechanism, known as budget reconciliation, that required no GOP support.
The spoiling measures included proposing scores of amendments to the bill, which were then voted on in lengthy congressional sessions known as “vote-a-ramas,” stretching for hours on end.
In a measure even some Republicans queried, Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin forced congressional staff to read aloud the entire 628-page stimulus bill last Thursday in a process that lasted 10 hours and 43 minutes.
Democrats now control Congress and the White House, though their majorities in both houses are small. In the 50-50 Senate it is practically nonexistent, relying on tiebreaker votes from Vice President Kamala Harris.
The slender margins made it necessary to use reconciliation, a procedural move that denies Republican senators the chance to use the filibuster to impose a 60-vote threshold on bills progressing.
Unable to stop the bill, the GOP sought to score messaging victories instead, reviving the playbook employed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell during the Obama administration.
The “vote-a-rama” sessions allowed Republicans to force Democratic lawmakers to vote on issues that divide Republicans and Democrats. The votes test Democratic unity, and can then be used as material for attack ads during elections. They included amendment votes on packing the Supreme Court and on the Keystone XL pipeline.
Biden pledged in his inauguration speech to try to heal America’s political divisions and champion bipartisanship. He held talks with a group of Republican senators, but ultimately didn’t act on their ideas or win their votes.
The fact that the bill passed without a single GOP vote led Republicans to question the sincerity of Biden’s wish to be a bipartisan consensus-builder who listens to Republicans.
In the future, Biden may not get a choice. One pivotal Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, said he won’t let Biden override GOP views again, threatening to withhold his vote in a planned infrastructure bill if it doesn’t appeal to Republicans.
The unified GOP opposition also means that if the stimulus package fails or backfires, Democrats will be left to take all of the blame. Republicans can then resort to the tried-and-tested tactic of painting the Democratic Party as the party of Big Government overreach.
But there are risks for the GOP in the steadfast opposition it presented to a bill that polls showed is backed by most Americans – including 60% of Republicans.