President Joe Biden receives an economic briefing with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, D.C., January 29, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
President Joe Biden on Tuesday rejected a Republican counterproposal to his $1.9 trillion COVID relief plan, saying the $618 billion offer was too small as Senate Democrats voted to begin a process for approving the larger bill, even without bipartisan support.
Biden and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen held a private virtual meeting with the Democratic senators on Tuesday, in which both said the Republican proposal, crafted by ten GOP senators, was too small.
“President Biden spoke about the need for Congress to respond boldly and quickly,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said after the lunch meeting. “If we did a package that small, we’d be mired in the COVID crisis for years.”
Biden’s comments came one day after he had a meeting with the group of GOP senators in which he rejected their proposal. Though the White House is privately having talks with Republicans and centrist Democrats on possible changes to win bipartisan support, the president has signaled he won’t put off passing another round of relief in order to win GOP support.
Lawmakers hope to approve another round of relief by March, when additional unemployment assistance and other aid is set to expire.
Democrats voted Tuesday to begin procedural steps to ultimately approve the bill using budget reconciliation, which would allow the measure to pass with a simple majority in the Senate, bypassing a potential Republican filibuster.
The vote launches 50 hours of debate on a budget resolution, with amendment votes expected later this week.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell blasted the Democrats for moving forward without Republican support.
“They’ve chosen a totally partisan path,” he said. “That’s unfortunate.”
If Biden were to find a compromise with the ten Republican senators, he could potentially secure the votes needed in the evenly divided Senate to meet the 60-vote threshold typically required to advance legislation.
While the plans are similar in their approach to health care, with the GOP plan including $160 billion for vaccine distribution, testing, protective gear and funds for rural hospitals, similar to Biden’s plan, the parties’ proposals differ greatly beyond that.
The president’s proposal includes $170 billion for schools, while the Republican plan allocates just $20 billion for schools. Biden wants to send money to states, including $350 billion to keep police, fire and other workers on the job, though Republicans have argued against giving money to states.
Biden has pushed for $1,400 direct payments that would begin to diminish at $75,000 for individuals and couples making $150,000 a year. The GOP has called for smaller, more targeted $1,000 stimulus checks that would go to individuals earning up to $40,000 per year or $80,000 for couples.
The president has signaled he is willing to pass more targeted direct payments, though he is unwilling to budge on the $1,400 figure.
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