Ten Republican senators are set to meet with President Biden at the White House on Monday to discuss a potential compromise on a coronavirus relief plan after the GOP group proposed their own framework for a smaller, more targeted package.
The lawmakers, including Senators Susan Collins (R., Maine), Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska), Mitt Romney (R., Utah) and Rob Portman (R., Ohio), sent a letter to Biden in which they propose a $600 billion plan and say they “welcome the opportunity to work with (him) in a bipartisan manner to combat the Covid-19 virus and provide continued support to families struggling during the pandemic.”
A number of Republican lawmakers have criticized Biden’s sweeping $1.9 trillion proposal, though Democrats have signaled they would be willing to pass a relief bill without any GOP support, using budget reconciliation. That process would allow Democrats to pass the bill as part of taxing and spending policies with a simple majority, avoiding a Republican filibuster.
However, even then, Biden’s proposal would need the support of every Democratic senator, as the legislative body is evenly split 50-50. Moderate Democratic Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona could stand in the way of Democrats’ simple majority.
After the GOP group, which also includes Senators Bill Cassidy (R., La.), Shelley Moore Capito (R., W. Va.), Todd Young (R., Ind.), Jerry Moran (R., Kansas), Mike Rounds (R., S.D.) and Thom Tillis (R., N.C.), sent their letter on Sunday, Biden later invited them to the White House on Monday for a “full exchange of ideas.”
However, White House press secretary Jen Psaki’s statement made clear that Democrats are still seeking to pass a large package and to do so urgently.
“With the virus posing a grave threat to the country, and economic conditions grim for so many, the need for action is urgent, and the scale of what must be done is large,” Psaki said. “As leading economists have said, the danger now is not in doing too much: it is in doing too little. Americans of both parties are looking to their leaders to meet the moment.”
The GOP senators accepted the invitation in a later statement, saying: “We appreciate the president’s quick response to our letter, and we are pleased to accept his invitation to the White House tomorrow afternoon to discuss the path forward for the sixth bipartisan COVID-19 relief package.”
The Republicans’ new proposal includes $160 billion for vaccine development and distribution, testing and tracing, and treatment and supplies, including the production and deployment of personal protective equipment. It includes an additional $4 billion to support behavioral health and substance abuse services and another round of direct payments for “families who need assistance the most.”
The senators also propose extending enhanced federal unemployment benefits at the current level.
Portman on Sunday said while the proposal is just a framework, any final plan will be “less than $1.9 [trillion] because much of what the administration has laid out has nothing to do with COVID-19.”
During an appearance on CNN’s State of the Union, Portman said the GOP senators believe the $1,400 direct payments should be “much more targeted,” with a $50,000 income cap for individuals and a $100,000 cap for a family.
“Many of these people have had no impact from COVID. In fact, some of these people have done quite well. Others are struggling. Let’s focus on those who are struggling,” he said, adding that economic analyses have shown that those earning over $75,000 per year are tending to save, not spend, the money.