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Sen. Ron Johnson pledges to set up roadblocks for $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill

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U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson took center stage Thursday in a Republican effort to slow down the passage of a $1.9 trillion Democratic COVID-19 relief bill the Senate is expected to debate into the weekend.

Johnson, R-Oshkosh, who has described the massive stimulus package as unnecessary, forced a full reading of the more than 600-page document, which began Thursday afternoon and was expected to last into the early hours Friday.

Supporters of President Donald Trump rallied in Madison on Nov. 6, 2020, where they were met with counter-protesters.

He said he also plans to work with his Republican colleagues to introduce a litany of amendments to the bill to try to force lengthy votes and more debate on the legislation, a procedure he called a “vote-a-rama” in a WIBA radio interview.

“We need to keep this process going so we can highlight the abuse, how this is not COVID relief, how this is a boondog(gle) for Democrats,” Johnson said. “I’m going to lead the effort to resist it.”

Johnson said he plans to gather more than a dozen Republican lawmakers to be on the Senate floor to offer continual amendments.

Once the measure clears the Senate, the House will have to approve the Senate version before shipping it to Biden, which Democrats want to do before the last round of emergency jobless benefits run dry March 14.

Johnson called the bill unnecessary and said Wisconsin would get less state and local aid than other states because its unemployment rate is lower than some other states, something he attributed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision last spring to strike down the state’s stay-at-home order. The state’s unemployment rate has tracked about a percentage point lower than the national average for the past decade.

The COVID-19 relief bill is Democratic President Joe Biden’s signature legislative priority and represents his attempt to stomp out the year-old pandemic, revive an economy that has shed 10 million jobs and bring some semblance of normality to countless upended lives.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, called for passage of the bill on Tuesday, noting that it would help increase vaccinations and testing, ensure access to health coverage, promote health equity and invest in behavioral health.

“The American Rescue Plan is the investment our state needs to beat the pandemic, save our economy, and start getting our lives back to normal,” Baldwin said in a statement.

The $1.9 trillion package includes $50 billion for testing, genomic sequencing of variants, personal protective equipment and contact tracing; $20 billion for improving vaccine administration and distribution; $10 billion for the Defense Production Act to procure essential personal protective equipment (PPE) and other medical equipment; and $8 billion for public health workforce development.

Baldwin also said the bill would lower or eliminate health insurance premiums for millions of Americans who buy insurance through the ACA marketplaces, provide incentives for states to expand Medicaid and subsidize continuation of health coverage for those who have lost their employer-sponsored coverage.

Democrats hold a 51-50 advantage in the Senate with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking ties. Nearly all Republicans are expected to vote against the bill.

The White House and top Democrats agree that the Senate package would retain the $400 weekly emergency unemployment benefits included in the House-passed pandemic legislation. Moderates have wanted to trim those payments to $300 after Republicans called the bill so heedlessly generous that it would prompt some people to not return to work.

Liberals were already angry after Senate Democrats jettisoned the House bill’s minimum wage increase to $15 by 2025.

Senate Democrats were also removing $1.5 million for a bridge between New York state and Canada and around $140 million for a rapid transit project south of San Francisco after Republicans cast both as pet projects for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Aides to both Democratic leaders said the projects weren’t new and had been supported by the Trump administration.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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