SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mitt Romney supports a Republican effort to delay a vote on the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, calling President Joe Biden's plan "massively excessive."
The Utah Republican also plans to introduce a number of amendments to the bill, including one that would direct billions of dollars to state and local government to only those that need pandemic-related assistance.
Romney backed fellow GOP Sen. Ron Johnson's request to have the entire 625-page bill read aloud on the Senate floor, which could take as long as 10 hours.
"What I see that he is doing is making sure we communicate very clearly that the $1.9 trillion plan has good objectives but is massively misdirected," Romney told reporters in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.
The Senate voted 50-50 to start debate on the bill Thursday, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie. After the reading of the bill, the Senate could argue over the legislation for up to 20 hours in a marathon session during which any senator can force votes on amendments.
Republican Utah Sen. Mike Lee posted a video on Twitter of himself gearing up for the "vote-a-rama" with cases of Red Bull, Diet Coke, bottled water, cracker, nuts and other snacks.
"When we're going to be asked to spend $1.9 trillion, we've got to make sure that we get it right, so we're going to push the debate as long as we possibly can," he said.
Lee said he expects the Senate to go all night over the next couple of nights and maybe longer.
"The Senate is going to move forward with the bill. No matter how long it takes, the Senate is going to stay in session to finish the bill this week," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the Senate floor before the vote.
Schumer said millions of people are thousands of dollars behind on rent and utilities and are facing eviction. Even as Americans are receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, tens of thousands of people are getting sick, and "we're racing against the clock to defeat the pandemic," he said.
The Administration's $1.9 trillion #COVID19 plan adds to our national debt without creating benefit to our economy or helping people in need. This isn't monopoly money—these are real dollars that will be paid for by our children and grandchildren. pic.twitter.com/XyMFnZztwK— Senator Mitt Romney (@SenatorRomney) March 4, 2021
Top business leaders and local government leaders in both political parties across the country support the plan, he said.
"It seems the only group that oppose the bill is Republicans here in Washington, and it's confounding," Schumer said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden is "unmovable" on the size of the package.
Romney said Biden's proposal is wasteful, spends money where it isn't needed and saddles future generations with more federal debt, adding in a tweet that these are real dollars not Monopoly money.
"The president's plan is massively excessive. It needs to be cut back and focused where need is real. But that's not what's there now, and that's one of the reasons why a number of Republican senators are joining together to slow down the process," he said.
Romney singled out $350 billion earmarked in the bill for state and local governments as excessive. He said many states have seen revenues increase during the pandemic and were already reimbursed for their coronavirus-related expenses through previous legislation.
"I'm concerned that under the plan, many states that had no revenue loss or no deficit as a result of COVID and no unreimbursed COVID expenses that they nonetheless are going to get billions and billions of dollars," he said in a Senate committee hearing earlier Thursday
States, he said, shouldn't be getting tens of billions of dollar in borrowed money to fill whatever hole they might have.
"The states that feel pain, gotta help them. The states that don't feel pain, we shouldn't be sending them billions of dollars that we're borrowing for our kids to have to pay back," Romney said.
Romney, who last week called Biden's plan a "clunker," said he's all for helping people, states and businesses that need it.
"I can assure you as a former governor, if the federal government is going to be handing out billions of dollars, I'm going to have my hand out to get as much as I can," he said. "But these are dollars that are going to be paid for by our kids and grandkids. They're being loaned to us by the Chinese among others. We ought to be really careful with what we send out."
Lee called the relief package "offensive." He said the bill is riddled with "poor" economic reasoning and "rank" political favoritism.
"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.
Like Romney, Lee said many states, including Utah, aren't suffering financially from the pandemic.
"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 backward," he said.
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.