Senate GOP slams COVID relief bill's 'pricey partisan pet projects'

All eyes on Senate as Biden COVID relief plan hangs in balance

FOX News chief Washington correspondent Mike Emanuel joins 'Special Report' with an update

Senate Republicans are slamming what they call the "pricey partisan pet projects" and "Democratic wish list items" embedded in the coronavirus relief package, saying that "most of the $1.9 trillion" within the legislation has "absolutely nothing to do" with the pandemic.

Senate Republican Conference Vice Chair Joni Ernst is leading a number of Senate GOP members who are expected to present the areas they've taken issue with on the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon.

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Ernst, R-Iowa, is expected to slam the current "one party monopoly" in Washington, D.C., and say that "Democrats are back to their old spending games."

Sen. Joni Ernst is expected to use this slide on the Senate floor Tuesday.

"The bulk of this budget-busting bill is devoted to fulfilling a wish list of long-time liberal priorities, including billion-dollar bailouts, progressive program expansions, and pricey partisan pet projects," Ernst is expected to say on the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon.

House Democrats passed the nearly $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill on a mostly party-line vote over the weekend, sending the massive package to the Senate as lawmakers rush to provide a fresh round of aid before key unemployment programs expire. The Senate could move as soon as this week to pass its own version of the bill, which would look slightly different from the House proposal — most notably excluding the $15 minimum wage increase after the parliamentarian ruled that its inclusion violates budget rules.

Democrats are using a procedural tool known as budget reconciliation to pass the legislation without any Republican support and are therefore limited as to what provisions they can include. And given their thinnest-possible majority in the Senate, the party needs to secure the support of all 50 members across the ideological spectrum, with Vice President Kamala Harris then able to cast a tie-breaking vote.

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But Fox News obtained a GOP memo listing some of the items Senate Republicans have taken issue with, saying they are "non-COVID related."

Senate Republicans slammed what they call House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's "Subway to Nowhere" — a $100 million allocation for a Silicon Valley underground rail project. The funds would go to phase two of the Bay Area Transit Authority expansion project underneath San Jose.

Sen. Joni Ernst is expected to use this as a slide during her Senate floor remarks Tuesday.

Sen. Joni Ernst is expected to use this as a slide during her Senate floor remarks Tuesday.

Republicans also slammed Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's "Bridge to Nowhere," which allocated $1.5 million from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund for operations, maintenance and capital infrastructure activities of the Seaway International Bridge in New York.

The COVID-19 relief package also includes billions of dollars to support climate change, $86 billion for union pensions, a $350 billion bailout for states — which Republicans say is not a responsibility of taxpayers across the country — $180 million to change the definition of an "at-risk school child," which Republicans say includes individuals up to 24 years of age "for purposes of emergency meal reimbursements under the Child and Adult Care Food Program."

Republicans also slammed the bill's "new taxpayer-funded executive branch employee emergency leave program," which allows "nearly seven times the current 80 hours of emergency leave with 600 hours of additional emergency leave with no requirement that it be due to COVID-19, and no oversight or justification needed" through the end of fiscal year 2021.

Ernst, in her floor remarks Tuesday afternoon, is expected to push for COVID relief legislation to focus on "immediate help" to get people back to work, schools safely reopened, and expanded access to "quality, affordable childcare," as well as a plan to "distribute the vaccine as quickly as possible."

"While the bill does provide assistance for these purposes, even here the Democrats show how out of touch they are," Ernst is expected to say.

Ernst is expected to point to the legislation's enhanced unemployment benefit, which provides an extra $400 per week to those who are out of work, but criticized the fact that there "is no income limit placed on eligibility."

Sen. Joni Ernst is expected to use this slide on the Senate floor Tuesday.

Sen. Joni Ernst is expected to use this slide on the Senate floor Tuesday. (Sen. Joni Ernst's office)

"That means someone who may be out of work but is still earning a million dollars or more qualifies for these bonus payments," Ernst is expected to say. "You might laugh and ask, 'How many people would apply for unemployment assistance if they were making a million dollars?' The answer is thousands."

Ernst is set to describe this as "a reverse millionaires' tax."

"The Democrats are paying millionaires to not work, with taxes paid by lower income workers," she will say. "How do you like that socialist scheme?"

GOP Sens. Shelley Moore Capito, Steve Daines, John Hoeven, Roger Marshall, Thom Tillis, Todd Young, James Lankford and Republican Conference Chair John Barrasso are expected to join Ernst on the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon to present their qualms with the $1.9 trillion COVID relief package.

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Republicans are set to warn that the millions embedded in the bill "isn't Monopoly money," and that "sadly" the programs will be paid for by essential workers and middle class Americans who "are continuing to work, pay taxes, and keep America running."

"As an eternal optimist, I am hopeful that when the bill comes before the Senate, my Democrat colleagues will actually work with us to cut the pork and refocus the bill on what it should be focused on: the immediate needs of the COVID pandemic," Ernst is expected to say. "If not, I'm afraid the Democrats will just 'keep passing go' and collecting hundreds of dollars from hardworking taxpayers across this country, only to pay for their pricey partisan pet projects and wish list items that have nothing to do with COVID-19."

If the Senate passes a different version of the emergency aid bill, the House will either have to vote on that measure — a potentially risky move with progressives threatening to withdraw their support unless it includes a $15 minimum wage — or the two chambers will need to meet to draft a final bill.

The proposal contains a third $1,400 stimulus check for Americans earning less than $75,000 annually, increases jobless benefits to $400 a week through the end of August, expands the child tax credit to up to $3,600 per child, includes $350 billion for state and local government funding and allocates $170 billion for K-12 schools and higher education institutions to cover reopening costs.

Most Republicans are expected to vote against the massive spending measure, which will push the nation's already staggering debt to nearly $30 trillion if passed. Congress already passed about $4 trillion in relief measures under former President Donald Trump, pushing the deficit to a record $3.1 trillion in fiscal year 2020 — which doesn't include the $900 billion relief package lawmakers approved in December.

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Earlier in the day Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., from the Senate floor said Republicans and Democrats "could get together on a bipartisan basis — like we did five times last year — and pass more targeted policies to help finish the fight and get the American people their jobs, their schools, their lives, their country back."

McConnell said Senate Republicans went to the White House after President Biden took office to propose to "continue the streak of overwhelming bipartisanship that has defined the COVID-19 response all this time."

But McConnell added: "Democrats said no. They wanted to go it alone. And when you look at their partisan bill, you can see why."

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Lawmakers are racing to send the legislation to Biden's desk before March 14, when more than 11 million Americans will lose their jobless aid when two key federal jobless aid programs created a year ago under the CARES Act — and extended in the $900 billion relief package that Congress passed in December — lapse.

One analysis by the Center for a Responsible Federal Budget found that more than 15% of the proposed package — about $300 billion — will go toward long-standing policy priorities that are "not directly related to the current crisis." Roughly 1% of the spending will go toward accelerating vaccine distribution, and just 5% is focused on public health needs, according to the nonpartisan group.

FOX Business’ Megan Henney contributed to this report.

Brooke Singman Fox News