President Biden and top congressional Democrats signaled they intend to pass a large coronavirus relief bill — whether or not Republican lawmakers support it — even after a White House meeting with GOP senators on Monday evening.
Although the group of 10 Republican senators described the meeting as "excellent" with a "very productive exchange of views," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement that Biden had urged lawmakers to act "boldly" on emergency aid and pointed out many areas where the two sides did not agree.
"He reiterated that while he is hopeful that the Rescue Plan can pass with bipartisan support, a reconciliation package is a path to achieve that end," Psaki said.
The coalition of more moderate GOP senators, led by Sen. Susan Collins, sent a letter to Biden on Sunday, seeking a meeting to start bipartisan negotiations on the next relief bill. In their opening salvo, the Republicans offered a $618 billion relief measure, roughly one-third of the $1.9 trillion proposal outlined by Biden at the beginning of January.
The Republican counterproposal includes $300 a week in supplemental unemployment benefits through June, $50 billion for small businesses including an additional $40 billion through the Paycheck Protection Program and a third round of stimulus checks worth up to $1,000 for Americans earning less than $50,000 (individuals earning less than $40,000 would receive the full payment).
The outreach came as their Democratic colleagues prepare to move forward on passing another massive stimulus bill using their simple majority.
On Monday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer filed a budget resolution, the first step required to pass legislation via “budget reconciliation," a complicated Senate procedure that would allow Democrats to approve the majority of the bill using their slimmest-possible majority in the upper chamber.
“Congress has a responsibility to quickly deliver immediate comprehensive relief to the American people hurting from COVID-19,” Schumer and Pelosi said in a joint statement. “The cost of inaction is high and growing, and the time for decisive action is now."
While the top Democrats said they were "hopeful" that Republicans would join their relief efforts, they warned that the "American people cannot afford any more delays."
"Congress must act to prevent more needless suffering," they said.
Jared Bernstein, one of Biden’s top economic advisers, said Tuesday it was “very good” to see the bipartisan discussion between the president and Republicans, but stressed that the White House’s goal is to get a large rescue package passed quickly.
“If this stops with a good meeting, it’s not going to begin to meet the urgent needs of the American people,” Bernstein said during an interview on MSNBC. “We’ve got to get there quickly, and we’ve got to get there with a magnitude of the proposal that’s the American Rescue Plan. The danger here is not doing too much. It’s doing too little."
Sen. Bernie Sanders, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has urged his party to not delay passing the legislation, even if they must lean on reconciliation to do so.
“We are going to use reconciliation, that is 50 votes in the Senate plus the vice president, to pass legislation desperately needed by working families in this country right now,” he told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union" last week. "The new Senate stands on 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tiebreaking vote when needed."