WASHINGTON — A group of Republican senators unveiled a $618 billion coronavirus relief proposal ahead of a Monday meeting with President Joe Biden, who is seeking about three times much aid as congressional Democrats look poised to move ahead without Republican support.
An invitation to the White House came hours after the lawmakers, led by Susan Collins of Maine, sent Biden a letter Sunday urging him to negotiate rather than try to ram through his relief package solely on Democratic votes. The House and Senate are on track to vote as soon as this week on a budget resolution, which would lay the groundwork for passing an aid package under rules requiring only a simple majority vote in the closely divided Senate.
The goal is for passage by March, when extra unemployment assistance and other pandemic aid expires. The meeting to be hosted by Biden would amount to the most public involvement for the president in the negotiations for the next round of virus relief. Democratic and Republican lawmakers are far apart in their proposals for assistance.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Sunday that Biden had spoken with the leader of the group Collins. Though Biden wants “a full exchange of views,” Psaki reiterated that the president remains in favor of moving forward with a far-reaching relief package.
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“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.
The Republican group’s counterproposal matches Biden on $160 billion in funding for vaccines and other efforts to fight the virus, but differs elsewhere. It extends unemployment benefits through June, not September, and with a smaller weekly federal supplement. It calls for $1,000 stimulus checks, rather than $1,400, and targets them more narrowly, with individuals who earn more than $50,000 per year not eligible. It also offers less funding than Biden’s proposal for schools and child care.
The Collins-led framework includes an additional $40 billion in funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, the small business loan program co-authored by the Maine senator. Biden’s plan did not fund that program. But the Republican plan excludes several Democratic priorities, including aid for state and local governments, tax credits for children and low-income workers and a $15 hourly minimum wage.
“In the spirit of bipartisanship and unity, we have developed a COVID-19 relief framework that builds on prior COVID assistance laws, all of which passed with bipartisan support,” the Republican senators wrote. “Our proposal reflects many of your stated priorities, and with your support, we believe that this plan could be approved quickly by Congress with bipartisan support.”
The plea for Biden to give bipartisan negotiations more time comes as the president has shown signs of impatience as the more liberal wing of his party considers passing the relief package through a process known as budget reconciliation. That would allow the bill to advance with only the backing of his Democratic majority.
Winning the support of 10 Republicans would be significant for Biden in the 50-50 Senate where Vice President Kamala Harris is the tie-breaker. If all Democrats were to back an eventual compromise bill, the legislation would reach the 60-vote threshold necessary to overcome potential blocking efforts and pass under regular Senate procedures.
But even as Biden extended the invitation to the Republican lawmakers, Psaki said that $1,400 relief checks, substantial funding for reopening schools, aid to small businesses and hurting families, and more “is badly needed.”
Biden also spoke on Sunday with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who are facing a growing push from the more liberal Democratic members to move forward with Biden’s legislation with or without Republican support.
The other GOP senators invited to meet with Biden are Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rob Portman of Ohio, Mitt Romney of Utah, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Todd Young of Indiana, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Mike Rounds of South Dakota and Thom Tillis of North Carolina.
Brian Deese, the top White House economic adviser leading the administration’s outreach to Congress, indicated the White House could be open to negotiating on further limiting who would receive stimulus checks. Portman suggested the checks should go to individuals who make no more than $50,000 per year and families capped at $100,000 per year. Under the Biden plan, families with incomes up to $300,000 could receive some stimulus money.
“That is certainly a place that we’re willing to sit down and think about, are there ways to make the entire package more effective?” Deese said.
Story by Aamer Madhani. BDN writer Jessica Piper contributed to this report.