Sen. Ron Johnson plans to delay COVID relief vote with procedure requiring 600-page bill be read aloud

Sen. Ron Johnson said Wednesday he will invoke a procedure that requires every page of the massive COVID relief measure backed by President Joe Biden to be read aloud in the chamber before members vote on it.

The Wisconsin Republican made his comments to a local News/Talk radio station, where he said he wants to ensure “every member of the Senate has time to read” the bill and “highlight that this is not relief and that it’s a Democratic boondoggle.”

The National Review reported that the reading will take about 10 hours and come on top of the 20 hours already allotted for debating the measure.

In order to stop the bill — which is 600-700 pages in length — from being read in its entirety, all 100 senators would have to give consent. Most measures avoid being read aloud by unanimous consent in order to speed debate and passage.

Johnson told the radio station that his intent is not to “make it hurt,” but rather to ensure that interested Americans have a chance to see “how gross this is and how unnecessary this is.”

House and Senate Republicans have lambasted the bill for its size and the fact that the vast majority of the spending is not aimed at providing much COVID relief to Americans as well as businesses, schools, and other entities. 

In an interview with Fox News on Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the measure is “a wildly out-of-proportion response to where the country is at the moment.”

“This $1.9 trillion bill is the same size of the bill we passed last April, right in the middle of the pandemic,” McConnell said. “This is not the same country we had one year ago. Only 9 percent of this $1.9 trillion is related to health care, and less than 1 percent of this $1.9 trillion bill is related to vaccines.”

Added Sen Joni Ernst (R-Iowa): “With a one-party monopoly of Washington, Democrats are back to their old spending games. Most of the 1.9 trillion dollars within the Democrats’ ‘COVID’ package has absolutely nothing to do with COVID.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) introduced a resolution this week “to require members of Congress to have enough time to read bills before voting on them and certify that they have read every bill they cast a vote on.” Ernst, along with Sens. Josh Hawley (Mo.), John Kennedy (La.), and Roger Marshall (Kan.) co-sponsored it.

“This legislation comes as Senate Democrats try to push through a more than 600-page COVID-19 spending bill, which prioritizes their wasteful, liberal agenda over actual COVID relief. Only 10 percent of the funding in the Democrats’ bill is dedicated to actual COVID relief and less than one percent is committed to critical vaccine initiatives,” Scott said.

“Too often, lawmakers in Washington pass bills without having time to read them before they vote. These are new laws that impact American families and businesses and sometimes even authorize billions or trillions in tax dollar spending. Scary, right?” Scott continued. 

“It’s ridiculous Washington dysfunction, and it has to end. I’m proud to lead my colleagues in making sure members of Congress get to work for the American people and actually read bills before casting their votes,” he said.

After the 20-hour debate period, senators will engage in round-the-clock voting on various efforts and amendments to alter the bill which will add hours to the process.

Nevertheless, the measure is eventually expected to pass even if all Republicans vote against it; in the 50-50 Senate, Vice President Kamala Harris would cast the tie-breaking vote to approve it with a simple majority under budget reconciliation rules.

The altered measure would then go back to the House where it is also expected to pass, perhaps by mid-March.

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Jon Dougherty

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