Sen. Susan Collins said she was “hopeful” about a bipartisan deal on coronavirus relief after meeting with President Joe Biden on Monday, though she gave little indication the two sides were closer together as Democrats prepared to move forward without Republican support.
Democratic congressional leaders indicated Monday they would start the budget reconciliation process, which would allow them to pass Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion relief package on majority votes in both chambers and with no support from minority Republicans.
Collins told reporters outside the White House that the meeting was “productive” after talking with Biden and his advisors for more than two hours. But she gave few concrete next steps, saying only that their respective staffs would continue talking. She spoke for a few minutes flanked by her Republican colleagues but did not take questions.
“I wouldn’t say that we came together on a package tonight,” she said. “No one expected that in a two-hour meeting.”
Collins and nine Republican colleagues spoke with Biden after rolling out a $618 billion alternative relief framework Monday morning. It matches the Democratic president’s funding for virus response and includes additional funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, but spends less on stimulus checks, unemployment benefits and child care while not including a minimum wage increase or aid for state and local governments, the latter of which Collins has backed alongside the rest of Maine’s delegation.
The Maine senator said Monday on a livestream program hosted by the Maine State Chamber of Commerce prior to her meeting with Biden that she hoped to find middle ground with the Democratic president, pointing to stimulus checks as one area for compromise.
Biden has called for $1,400 checks for individuals earning up to $75,000, with amounts tapering at incomes above that threshold, while Republicans have called for smaller checks targeted for people earning no more than $50,000 for individual filers. Without elaborating on details, Collins said the president “seems open to targeting” the checks more.
Whether Democrats will seek middle ground remains unclear as they may have the votes to pass the $1.9 trillion package as is, though they would need every Democrat in the Senate to pass a bill with a simple majority. It is also unclear whether a compromise bill would be able to overcome the filibuster. While nine other Republicans back Collins’ $618 billion framework, none have said they would vote for something larger.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Monday night that Biden’s conversation with the senators was “productive,” but that he “will not slow down work on this urgent crisis response.” She said the Democratic president still hoped a bill could be bipartisan but that the budget reconciliation process was “a path to achieve that end.”
“The cost of inaction is high and growing, and the time for decisive action is now,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said in a joint statement as they moved forward with a partisan vehicle for Biden’s plan.
Collins, Sen. Angus King of Maine and several other senators of both parties who came up with the $900 billion relief package that passed in December previously suggested another moderate, bipartisan group could negotiate the next bill too. But that coalition has not played a significant role in stimulus negotiations in recent weeks as Democrats rallied around Biden’s proposal, and the Republicans proposed the $618 billion framework.
King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, said Monday that the Senate Republicans’ package was “insufficient to address the range of challenges we face,” pointing to the absence of funding for state and local governments as one key issue.
“I will continue to engage in good-faith, bipartisan dialogues on this issue, and urge my Republican colleagues to come to the negotiating table to design a package that not only can gain 60 votes in the Senate, but rise to the moment for the American people,” King said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.