SALT LAKE CITY — As the Senate prepares to take up President Joe Biden's massive COVID-19 relief package, Sen. Mike Lee is among a group of Republicans calling it a Democratic wish list that would hurt the economy.
"The bill before the Senate this week is not really about COVID relief. It's about politics," the Utah Republican said in a floor speech Wednesday.
The five previous coronavirus relief bills were bipartisan efforts and if Biden's massive plan were to pass, it would be the first one that is controversial, he said. The legislation proposes to borrow and spend $1.9 trillion while hundreds of billions of dollars have yet to be spent from the previous bills.
"This package, instead, is about fulfilling the political wish list of one political party over another, and has very little, if anything, to do with the pandemic. It's offensive," Lee said.
The bill, he said, is riddled with "poor" economic reasoning and "rank" political favoritism.
2/2 It will worsen our nation's economic health in the long term and does little to help American small businesses and families in the short term.— Mike Lee (@SenMikeLee) March 3, 2021
Democrats are scrambling to put their final touches on the bill, which the Senate delayed debating Wednesday night. It includes $1,400 in direct payments, though Biden has reportedly agreed to narrow the eligibility requirements for the stimulus checks.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the package is necessary to get the economy back on track.
News outlets reported Wednesday that Biden has agreed to narrow the eligibility requirements for the next round of stimulus checks.
"It doesn't matter what is in the bill — everything my colleagues oppose is 'a liberal wish list,'" Schumer said on the Senate floor. "That is what many of them call it. Well, let me tell you, this bill is not a liberal wish list. This is an American wish list."
The American Rescue Plan has the support of more than 435 mayors and state leaders—from both parties— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) March 3, 2021
It will provide real, robust relief for all of us
The Senate Democratic majority is working to send this help to the American people—and fast pic.twitter.com/ko7K3s49oG
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, last week called the package a "clunker" that would waste hundreds of billions of dollars, do nothing meaningful to get kids back to school and work against creating jobs.
Lee said the legislation would weaken the economy without doing much to help small businesses and families.
"This $1.9 trillion package has very little to do with COVID," he said, adding only 1% would go toward vaccine distribution and just 5% focuses on public health.
For example, Lee said, $1.5 billion would go to Amtrak, which is already sitting on about $1 billion of unspent bailout money, adding that providing that kind of money is "beyond my comprehension."
Lee also said many states, including Utah, don't need the $350 billion earmarked for state and local governments because most have recovered and some have seen revenues increase the past year. Some states also have unspent coronavirus relief dollars, he said.
"In this bill we're acting like states are facing a fiscal catastrophe that is specifically from COVID when they're not. At the same time, we're acting like the unprecedented magnitude of the federal debt is a nonissue. It is not. We've got the situation exactly backwards," he said.
Utahns have made hard decisions to ensure a prosperous economy. In fact, the State is running a surplus. Utah's sacrifice and good governance should not go to bail out other states to the tune of $350 billion.— Mike Lee (@SenMikeLee) March 3, 2021
What would you cut? pic.twitter.com/d6oucalIkx
New relief funding needs to be targeted, temporary and related to COVID-19, Lee said.
Lee said the fight against the pandemic has changed since Biden first announced his plan several months ago.
"It feels a little bit to me like we're fighting the last war using the last war's battle plan, leaving us unprepared for the battle actually in front of us," he said.
The House passed the relief bill, including a provision to raise the minimum wage last week. But the Senate parliamentarian ruled last week that it could not be included under Senate rules, which require provisions in a bill passed through reconciliation must be budget-related.