Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) has suggested the COVID-19 relief bill being debated in the upper chamber is full of billions of dollars in what he branded “‘gifts’ from the American taxpayer.”
The Senate voted to start debating the roughly $1.9 trillion package on Thursday, with Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote being used to give Democrats the 51 votes needed to begin.
Democrats are looking to pass the measures through reconciliation, which could allow them to do so with no Republican support in the upper chamber as this would only take securing a simple majority.
Republicans have persisted in objecting to the spending, while they have moved to delay the debate by asking the chamber’s clerks to read the entire bill aloud.
GOP lawmakers in the Senate persist with their stance that the bill is too costly and have suggested there is spending which does not directly address the current issues posed by the pandemic.
Toomey persisted with this line of argument on Thursday, tweeting: “My staff has begun scrubbing the Democrat ‘COVID-19 relief’ bill. What did we find? Tens of billions of dollars in ‘gifts’ from the American taxpayer.”
He went on to criticize aspects granting funds for urbanized areas’ transport authorities. Toomey pointed to lines in the legislation stating funding could add up to 132 percent of what their 2018 operating costs were.
Toomey then focused on funds made available to “mass transit construction projects.” He pointed to $175,000 in extra funding to five projects.
On this, he said: “The federal government generally locks in its contribution to mass transit construction projects. That makes sense. You don’t want to set the expectation that federal taxpayers will bail out projects running over budget. But then along came the Democrat stimulus.”
He also questioned a section which would allow for future Defense Production Act spending in regard to potential pandemic threats. This says money set aside will remain available until 2025 and after September 30, 2022, may be used for “activity necessary to meet critical public health needs of the United States, with respect to any pathogen that the President has determined has the potential for creating a public health emergency.”
He tweeted: “Should POTUS be able to use $10B in Defense Production Act money for *any activityso long as he believes there’s a *chanceof a future public health emergency? We don’t know how Biden will spend this, but we do know it won’t help Americans get through the pandemic today.”
Toomey has previously pointed to aspects of proposed spending he takes issue with.
“This isn’t about coming together and doing something about a crisis. This is about a partisan, left-wing wish list,” he said in a recent floor speech.
After the bill’s reading in the Senate there is to be up to 20 hours of debate on it. There will then be votes, with an unlimited number of amendments possible.
Democrats have expressed confidence in their plans passing, with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) insisting that would happen this week. The bill includes aspects such as further stimulus checks, expanded unemployment benefits and aid for state and local governments. There is also funding to boost vaccination programs and to assist schools in reopening.
There have been some concessions from original proposals, with a measure to boost the federal minimum wage dropped after the Senate parliamentarian ruled this should not be passed through reconciliation. The eligibility criteria for stimulus check payments is also to be tightened.
Newsweek has contacted Toomey’s office for comment.