Republicans Pitch Biden on Smaller Help Plan as Democrats Put together to Act Alone

WASHINGTON – A coalition of 10 Republican senators counterproposed the White House Monday evening calling on President Biden to lower his ambitions for a comprehensive pandemic relief package of $ 1.9 trillion in favor of a plan less than a third its size backing down argues could achieve the bipartisan consensus that the new president has been seeking.

Their draft, which came when the Democrats were ready to move on to Mr Biden’s plan, with or without Republican support, was a test of whether the president would opt for a scaled-down measure that could fulfill his promise to encourage broad compromise, or Use its majority in Congress to reach for stronger relief measures taken against tough Republican opposition.

White House officials said Mr Biden was eager to hear from Republicans about their plan and ready to negotiate its details.

“I’m excited – to talk,” he said to Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine and group leader, as they gathered in the Oval Office.

However, his advisors have made it clear that the president has little enthusiasm for significantly curtailing the rescue measure he has proposed. And, for now, there was little evidence that Democrats were seriously considering adopting such a limited proposal.

“The risk is not that this package is too big,” said Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, before the meeting. “The risk is that it’s too small. That remains his view. “

Republicans outlined the plan when the Congressional Budget Office forecast that the American economy would return to pre-pandemic size by the middle of this year, even if Congress did not approve further federal aid for the recovery, but years before anyone did kicked off the job after the pandemic could go back to work.

The rosier-than-expected projections would likely feed even more debate into the stimulus discussions and encourage the Republicans who have pushed Mr Biden to scale back his plan. However, they also pointed out that the risk that another large package of government aid could “overheat” the economy was small, and reflected the ongoing difficulties in shaking off the virus and getting back to full economic activity.

The Republicans’ $ 618 billion proposal would include many of the same elements as Biden’s plan, with $ 160 billion for vaccine distribution and development, coronavirus testing, and personal protective equipment manufacturing. $ 20 billion to reopen schools; more relief for small businesses; and additional help for individuals. However, it differs on major and minor points, as an increase in the federal minimum wage or direct aid to states and cities is omitted.

It would reduce direct payments to Americans, allocate $ 1,000 instead of $ 1,400, and limit them to the low-income earners, excluding those earning more than $ 50,000. It would also cut federal unemployment benefits, due to expire in March, and set weekly payments at $ 300 by June instead of $ 400 by September.

On Capitol Hill, top Democrats said they feared a smaller package would not adequately meet the needs of struggling Americans.

“This proposal is an insult to the millions of workers and families struggling to survive this crisis,” said Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon and chairman of the finance committee, of the Republican plan. “A bill that creates another cliff for the unemployed in a few months is a non-starter.”

Hours before Mr Biden sat down with Republicans, Democratic leaders began laying the groundwork to round out the president’s $ 1.9 trillion plan, if necessary, through a process known as budget balancing that would allow him to to bypass every republican filibuster, to advance it independently with a mere majority.

Spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi and New York City Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, tabled a joint budget resolution to begin the process, with plans for Senate votes by the end of the week.


Apr. 1, 2021, 5:02 p.m. ET

“The smartest thing we can do, according to Finance Minister Yellen, is to act big,” said Schumer. “The Senate will do that: act big.”

Mr Schumer welcomed the Republican contributions to the package but warned against Mrs Collins’ actions.

“The only thing we cannot accept is a package that is too small or too tight to get our country out of this emergency,” said Schumer.

Members of the Republican group argued that it was up to Mr Biden to move forward across party lines after promising unification of the country in his inaugural address. The size of the coalition should show that a bipartisan path for stimulus measure was still possible. Ten Republicans could team up with the 50 Senate Democrats to defeat a filibuster that requires 60 votes to overcome.

Senator Todd Young, Republican from Indiana, described the plan as a way to “curb” Mr. Biden’s proposal, which some Republicans mocked on Capitol Hill, as a “bailout” for Democrat-led states.

Publicly and privately, Mr Biden’s staff say he is open to negotiating details of the final draft aid, but has no interest in significantly reducing it. Aiders have expressed their openness to specifically reducing – but not eliminating – the amount of aid given to local and state governments and limiting the cost of direct payments to individuals by tightening the income thresholds for eligibility to receive payments.

However, officials still firmly believe that much more help is needed for the unemployed, impoverished families struggling to pay for food and housing, and schools looking for resources to reopen safely. Over the past few days, administration officials have provided detailed breakdowns of schools’ needs for personal protective equipment and other purchases, which are considered critical to reopening, to justify the spending proposed by Mr Biden.

Federal Reserve chairman Jerome H. Powell warned last week that the economy was “far from a full recovery” with millions still unemployed and many small businesses under pressure.

Budget officials said the recovery in growth and jobs could be accelerated significantly if health officials could deploy coronavirus vaccines to the population faster.

Right now, the Budget Office sees little evidence that growth will be hot enough in the coming years to spur a rapid spike in inflation. It projected inflation levels below the Federal Reserve’s 2 percent target for the coming years, even if the Fed keeps interest rates near zero.

Other independent projections, including one from the Brookings Institution last week, have forecast that another dose of economic aid – like the $ 1.9 trillion package proposed by Mr Biden – would help the economy grow faster and outperforms its pre-pandemic path by the end of the year.

Mr Biden called the meeting after receiving a letter from the senators on Sunday asking for the opportunity to set out their plan. Mr. Biden, who worked with Ms. Collins when he served in the Senate, called the Maine Republican and invited her and the other signatories to the White House. He also spoke to Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer.

As members of Congress ponder different ways to get Mr Biden’s proposal passed, much attention has focused on centrist Democrats, whose votes will most likely be needed to move the plan forward in a 50:50 Senate. Last week, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin III, who is the most conservative Senate Democrat, raised concerns about direct payments to higher-income Americans and said he wanted to find a “bipartisan path forward.” He told reporters his goal was to make sure Mr. Biden would be a success.

“We’re going to make Joe Biden successful,” he said without going into detail. “I am in favor of my friend Joe Biden being a successful president.”

Later that evening, according to a person familiar with the conversation, a White House official had to call Mr. Manchin to straighten things out after making it clear that he was resentful that Vice President Kamala Harris had conducted a local television interview on his condition . Mr Manchin apparently saw the interview as a way to pressure him to support the stimulus plan without speaking to him directly.

Also in West Virginia, Mr Biden received an important boost on Monday: Governor Jim Justice, a close ally of former President Donald J. Trump, said he was backing a larger aid package than the one proposed by Republican senators.

“If we actually throw away some money now, what then?” Mr. Justice, a former Democrat who switched parties in 2017 to support Mr. Trump, told CNN.

Senator Jon Tester, a Democrat from Conservative Montana, told reporters on Capitol Hill Monday that a stimulus package “must be big enough to get the job done”.

“I think there is an opportunity to make some changes to that,” said Mr. Tester. “If it comes down to it, if it doesn’t change, I’ll vote for the $ 1.9 trillion,” he said.

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

Katie Rogers contributed to the coverage.

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