U.S. Sen. Susan Collins is skeptical of a $1.9 trillion stimulus proposal from President Joe Biden as she leads a bipartisan group of senators that will meet with top administration officials on the package this weekend.
The new Democratic president’s proposed stimulus package would include $1,400 stimulus checks, enhanced unemployment benefits through the fall, a $15 hourly minimum wage, money for testing and vaccine distribution, assistance for schools and aid for state and local governments, among other provisions.
Collins cited the $900 billion relief package that former President Donald Trump signed less than a month ago as a reason to wait on additional stimulus, noting in a statement that funding from that bill was still being allocated. The December package included $600 stimulus checks, another round of Paycheck Protection Program loans hard-hit small businesses, enhanced unemployment benefits through mid-March and money for food assistance and rent relief.
The Maine senator’s hesitation could spell trouble for Biden’s proposal in the Senate, where at least 10 Republican votes would be necessary to overcome a filibuster. She has generally been more in favor of coronavirus relief than most other Republicans, most recently supporting $2,000 stimulus checks and long backing aid to state and local governments.
Collins and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, who helped negotiate the December stimulus package, are leading the bipartisan group of senators that will be meeting with Biden’s economic advisers this weekend. The Maine senator said she looked forward to hearing about the administration’s proposals to assist with vaccine distribution and combating the virus.
“Any new COVID relief package must be focused on the public health and economic crisis at hand,” Collins said. “Provisions that are unrelated to [COVID-19] should be considered and debated separately.”
Biden’s proposal would likely sail through the Democratic-led House. The bill’s $1.9 trillion price tag as well as provisions including the $15 minimum wage and subsidies for health insurance premiums under the Affordable Care Act are likely to run into pushback from Republicans in the Senate. Collins has said the minimum wage increase should be set aside, while Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, backs it.
King, who is also part of the bipartisan group, told MSNBC on Thursday that there “is more work necessary” on the federal response to the virus, pointing to money for vaccine distribution and aid to state and local governments and general aid to Americans. He added he was optimistic the Senate could reach the 60-vote threshold on an agreement.
The White House has declined to provide a timeline for getting its relief package through Congress, saying that officials are scheduling meetings with lawmakers to discuss it. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday that the proposal has support ranging from the progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Most economists believe the United States can rebound with strength once people are vaccinated from the coronavirus, but the situation is still dire as the disease has closed businesses and schools. Nearly 10 million jobs have been lost since last February, and nearly 30 million households lack secure access to food.
Biden must balance the need for immediate aid against the risk of long negotiations. Psaki told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Friday that Biden is “not going to take tools off the table” as he looks to woo Republicans, and she argued the back-and-forth is “exactly how it should work.”
Neil Bradley, chief policy officer at the Chamber, told reporters Thursday that Congress should act fast to approve the roughly $400 billion for national vaccination and reopening schools and other elements of the plan with bipartisan support, rather than drag out negotiations.
“We cannot afford six months to get the vaccination process working right,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.