Centrist Republicans outline relief package before meeting Biden

Washington Published: Feb 01, 2021, 09.33 PM(IST)

(File Photo) US President Joe Biden Photograph:( Reuters )

Story highlights

The coalition of mostly centrist Republican senators, led by Susan Collins of Maine, on Monday outlined their $618 billion plan, which they are billing as a way for Biden to pass a pandemic aid bill with bipartisan support

Ten Republican senators are set to meet with President Joe Biden on Monday to push a much smaller alternative to his $1.9 trillion stimulus bill to address the toll of the pandemic, including scaling back another round of direct payments from the government.

The coalition of mostly centrist Republican senators, led by Susan Collins of Maine, on Monday outlined their $618 billion plan, which they are billing as a way for Biden to pass a pandemic aid bill with bipartisan support and make good on his inauguration pledge to unite the country.

With 10 Republicans on board joining the Senate’s 50 Democrats, a bipartisan bill could overcome the chamber’s 60-vote filibuster rule. But Democrats have shown little enthusiasm for a measure that amounts to less than one third of what the president says is needed to confront the public health and economic crisis.

Still, after receiving a letter from the senators Sunday requesting a meeting, Biden called Collins and invited her and the other signers to the White House, where they are scheduled to meet Monday evening. He also spoke with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader.

The Republicans’ proposal is likely to be met with resistance from congressional Democrats, who are preparing this week to begin laying the groundwork for passing Biden’s plan through a process known as budget reconciliation, which would allow it to bypass a filibuster and pass solely with Democratic votes.

The Republican proposal would include $160 billion for vaccine distribution and development, coronavirus testing and the production of personal protective equipment; $20 billion toward helping schools reopen; more relief for small businesses; and additional aid to individuals.

The package would also extend enhanced unemployment benefits of $300 a week — currently slated to lapse in March — until June 30.

“We recognize your calls for unity and want to work in good faith with your administration to meet the health, economic and societal challenges of the COVID crisis,” wrote the Republican group, which includes Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Mitt Romney of Utah.

The measure omits a federal minimum wage increase Biden included in his plan. It would also whittle down his proposal to send $1,400 checks to many Americans, and limit it to lower-income earners.

The proposal calls for checks of up to $1,000 for individuals making $50,000 a year or less and families with a combined income of up to $100,000, with individuals earning less than $40,000 — and families earning less than $80,000 — receiving the full amount. Previous rounds of direct payments were targeted to Americans earning less than $99,000 annually, with those earning less than $75,000 receiving the full amount.

“Let’s focus on those who are struggling,” Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, a member of the group, said Sunday on the CNN program “State of the Union.”

Biden and Democrats have said they want to work with Republicans, but will press ahead without them if they cannot win agreement on a robust response.

“His first responsibility as president is to help take care of the families who need it,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said of Biden on Sunday, telling CNN that he should move ahead with his full plan if Republicans would not agree.

Congress approved more than $4 trillion through a series of bills last year to address the coronavirus crisis and its economic fallout. Most recently, in December, lawmakers passed a $900 billion stimulus plan that included $600 direct checks to many Americans.

That package sprang from a compromise forged by many of the same centrist Republicans who are to meet with Biden on Monday, who joined moderate Democrats to force their leaders to the negotiating table to find common ground.

Read in App