A pedestrian wearing scarf walks along a street in New York, the United States, March 16, 2020. The number of COVID-19 cases in United States has topped 4,600 as of Monday night, an increase of more than 1,000 in the past 24 hours, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. (Xinhua/Wang Ying)
A pedestrian wearing scarf walks along a street in New York, the United States, March 16, 2020. The number of COVID-19 cases in United States has topped 4,600 as of Monday night, an increase of more than 1,000 in the past 24 hours, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. (Xinhua/Wang Ying)

U.S. Republican leaders have blasted Democrats over the House passage of the 1.9-trillion-U.S.-dollar COVID-19 relief package, calling it a partisan process to push through Democratic agenda during the pandemic.

“In 2020, Congress passed five COVID-19 rescue packages. All five were completely bipartisan,” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement Saturday, after the Democrats-held House approved the relief package amid unanimous Republican opposition.McConnell continued that the five rescue packages approved last year were the largest peacetime fiscal expansion in American history, “yet no bill earned fewer than 90 votes in the Senate or less than about 80 percent support in the House.”

The latest relief, a major legislation for President Joe Biden, cleared the lower chamber of Congress early Saturday morning by a vote of 219 to 212, with lawmakers largely voting along party lines. Two Democrats defected and voted against it. “House Democrats snapped that bipartisan streak. They jammed through a bill that even liberal economists and editorial boards say is not well targeted to this stage of the fight,” said the Senate Republican leader, noting that more than a third of its spending would not go out this fiscal year.”The House’s partisan vote reflects a deliberately partisan process and a missed opportunity to meet Americans’ needs,” he said.

Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican in the House, said in the debate before the vote that “almost every one of this bill’s 592 pages includes a liberal pipe dream,” which “predates the pandemic.” “We ran the numbers. The amount of money that actually goes to defeating the virus is less than 9 percent, less than 9 percent. So don’t call it a rescue bill. Don’t call it a relief bill,” said McCarthy.The House vote came after more than eight hours of debate by the House Rules Committee on the framework for the relief package, and a full House debate that started late Friday night and stretched into early Saturday morning.

In the House debate that lasted for over an hour, Republican lawmakers unanimously opposed the giant relief package, calling it a Democratic wish list, arguing that the plan includes provisions that they see as unrelated to the crisis, and that the high price tag could result in unsustainable debt for future generations. Many Republicans have questioned the need for another massive relief package as lawmakers have passed nearly 4 trillion dollars in relief efforts since the pandemic began, especially after a 900-billion-dollar aid package approved in December 2020. Democrats, meanwhile, defended it as much-needed relief, highlighting the urgency to rein in the surging pandemic, which has claimed 500,000 American lives, and to bolster the ravaged economy, with millions of Americans still out of work and businesses grappling with the economic fallout from COVID-19.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the chamber, said in a statement Saturday that the relief plan is “coronavirus-centric,” as it delivers the “decisive action” that families and small businesses demand and need. “This package puts vaccines in people’s arms, puts money in workers’ pockets, puts children safely back in school, puts people back in work,” said the Democratic leader. “It does so by honoring our heroes with state and local funding.” A few hours before the House debate, in response to McCarthy’s conspicuously satirical tweet suggesting an up-or-down vote on each item separately in the relief package, Pelosi said on Twitter that even Republican mayors across the country are imploring Republican lawmakers to support the relief plan.

Pelosi was referring to a bipartisan letter to Congress on Jan. 29, co-signed by mayors across the country, including more than 30 Republican mayors, who called on lawmakers to roll out more relief for state and local governments as soon as possible. Early February, Democrats moved to pass a procedural step in both chambers, allowing them to push through the big relief bill in the Congress without Republican support, a move criticized by Republicans as a “partisan process.” Most legislation requires 60 votes in the Senate to advance, but the budget reconciliation process allow Democrats to pass the bill with only a simple majority. With a 50-50 split Senate, and Vice President Kamala Harris to cast the tie-breaking vote vote, Democrats would be able to pass the bill without any Republican votes.

Michael Burgess, a Republican congressman from Texas, said it has been “disappointing” that Democrats are using a “partisan process” to pass a major rescue bill, just days after Biden called for unity in his inauguration speech.”President Biden’s call for unity was a simple talking point and instead of working with House GOP and Senate GOP. Democrats are pushing forward a partisan agenda that doesn’t represent all Americans,” Burgess said in a tweet. Biden, however, recently said what Republicans proposed is “either to do nothing or not enough.” “If I have to choose between getting help right now to Americans who are hurting so badly, and being bogged down in a monthly negotiation or compromising on a bill that’s up to the crisis, it’s an easy choice,” said the U.S. president.

The 900-billion-dollar relief package approved in December was widely considered long overdue, as Republican and Democratic lawmakers remained deadlocked for months over the size and scope of the aid bill, unable to strike a deal before the 2020 general election. Democrats are now rushing to get the new relief bill approved in Congress and send it to Biden to sign into law, as federal unemployment benefits are set to expire in mid-March.

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