Republican Stimulus Offer Challenges Biden to Split Aid Bill
(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden and Democratic congressional leaders must decide whether to break the administration’s $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief proposal into pieces after a scaled-down Republican plan emerged.
The $600 billion GOP proposal offered to the president by 10 Republican senators on Sunday provides the potential to move a bipartisan bill that includes components from the Biden proposal, including funding for coronavirus vaccines and testing, and unemployment assistance.
Democrats could still aim to enact the president’s other items, such as state and local government aid and a minimum-wage increase, separately -- although they could lose the leverage that attachment to more direct Covid-19 aid funding would provide.
Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are scheduled to meet with the Republican senators at the White House Monday at 5 p.m. to discuss their alternative proposal, which they outlined in a letter Sunday. The president extended the invitation on Sunday during a conversation with Maine Senator Susan Collins, one of the letter’s authors, and asked the group “for a full exchange of views,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.
The president has hoped for a bipartisan stimulus deal since before taking office. At the same time, the GOP plan is far short of what Biden wants, and Democrats could pursue the rest of the Biden proposal using a partisan budget tool. Democratic leaders have prepared the ground for legislative action this week that uses that special procedure, called reconciliation.
“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 in the letter dated Sunday.
The senators said they plan to unveil their plan on Monday, but offered some details, including a proposal for direct stimulus checks of up to $1,000, on Sunday talk shows. The group includes senators considered centrist, like Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, but more conservative Republicans as well.
Having 10 Republicans on board is significant because that’s the number to reach 60 votes in the Senate to pass bills under normal procedures, assuming the chamber’s 50 Democrats would be on board.
Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, one of the 10 senators, said on “Fox News Sunday” that the proposal comes to “about $600 billion” and is “very targeted.”
The group said in their letter that they’re in favor of $160 billion for virus control measure and for some form of more targeted direct stimulus checks.
Cassidy suggested the stimulus payments would be as high as $1,000, adding that “there’s been very good analysis that above a certain income level, that money’s not spent.”
Biden has proposed $1,400 checks, topping up $600 payments made as part of a December stimulus package.
Despite the overture from the Republicans, House Budget Chair John Yarmuth said Sunday he plans to move forward on Monday with introducing a fiscal 2021 budget resolution, the first step toward producing a reconciliation bill embodying the Biden stimulus.
The budget is to be voted on by the House later this week and will contain instructions to other committees to assemble the stimulus bill.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is threatening as soon as Tuesday to move the Senate toward reconciliation, which would allow 50 Democrats to pass some parts of the Biden plan without any Republican cooperation.
Schumer on Sunday told the New York Daily News that Republicans should talk to him and other Democratic lawmakers. “They should negotiate with us, not make a take-it-or-leave-it offer,” Schumer said -- although the plan the GOP senators announced wasn’t described as “take it or leave it.”
There are limits on what can be done in reconciliation, though, and spending on health care and education, as well as state and local aid, may be excluded.
A GOP aide, who asked not to be identified, said that if Biden took up the Republicans’ proposal he could attempt some of more contentious elements of his plan later via reconciliation.
The Republican plan would have “all of the health care funding that President Biden has in his proposal,” Portman said, without offering details.
Republicans have raised objections to Biden‘s attempt to use the package to raise the national minimum wage to $15 per hour, among other things.
Other senators signing Sunday’s letter were Todd Young of Indiana, Mike Rounds of South Dakota, Mitt Romney of Utah, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Jerry Moran of Kansas and Thom Tillis of North Carolina.
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