Joe Biden and his new treasury secretary Janet Yellen are encouraging Democrats in Congress to go big and bold on the Covid-19 relief package and have effectively panned a Republican alternative that is less than a third the size of the president’s $1.9tn rescue plan.
Senate Democrats took steps on Tuesday to push ahead with the huge bill, with or without Republican support, despite the ostensibly amicable bipartisan talks at the White House the day before.
Majority leader Chuck Schumer warned that the coronavirus crisis could drag on for several years unless maximum effort for large-scale relief is made on Capitol Hill.
Democrats voted to launch a process that could approve the sweeping rescue package on their own if necessary.
On Tuesday, Biden and Yellen joined the Democratic senators for a private virtual meeting and both declared the Republicans’ $618bn relief offer too small.
They urged ambitious and fast action to stem the coronavirus pandemic crisis and its economic fallout.
As the White House reaches for a bipartisan bill, Democrats marshaled their slim Senate majority, voting 50-49, to start a lengthy process for approving Biden’s bill with a simple majority.
The goal is to have Covid-19 relief approved by March, when extra unemployment assistance and other pandemic aid expires.
“President Biden spoke about the need for Congress to respond boldly and quickly,” Schumer said after the lunch meeting, and referring to the GOP counter offer, he added: “If we did a package that small, we’d be mired in the Covid crisis for years.”
Biden framed his views during the virtual lunch meeting with Democrats by talking about the need not to forget working and middle-class families – even those like nurses and pipe-fitters making $150,000 for a family of four – who are straining during the crisis, according to a person granted anonymity to discuss the private call.
The night before, Biden met with 10 Republican senators pitching their $618 billion alternative, and let them know it was insufficient to meet the country’s needs. The president made it clear that he won’t delay aid in hopes of winning GOP support.
While no compromise was reached during the late Monday session, White House talks with Republicans are privately underway.
The outcome will test the new president striving to unify the country but confronting a rising Covid-19 death toll and stubbornly high jobless numbers, with political risks for all sides.
Vaccine distributions, direct $1,400 payments to households, school reopenings and business aid are all on the line.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell criticized the Democrats for pressing ahead on their own. He said he had spoken to Biden ahead of his meeting with the 10 GOP senators.
“They’ve chosen a totally partisan path,” McConnell said. “That’s unfortunate.”
White House officials have previously cited the US Chamber of Commerce as evidence of broad support for their plan, but the nation’s most prominent business group issued a letter Tuesday that urged a bipartisan compromise.
“There ought to be common ground for a bipartisan proposal that can become law,” Neil Bradley, executive vice president and chief policy officer, said in an interview.
The cornerstone of the GOP plan is $160 billion for the health care response _ vaccine distribution, a “massive expansion” of testing, protective gear and funds for rural hospitals, similar to what Biden has proposed.
But from there, the two plans drastically diverge. Biden proposes $170bn for schools, compared to $20bn in the Republican plan. Republicans also would give nothing to states, money that Democrats argue is just as important, with $350bn in Biden’s plan to keep police, fire and other workers on the job.
The GOP’s $1,000 direct payments would go to fewer households, individuals earning up to $40,000 a year, or $80,000 for couples. That’s less than Biden’s proposal of $1,400 direct payments at higher income levels, up to $300,000 for some households..
The Republicans offer $40bn for Paycheck Protection Program business aid. But gone are Democratic priorities such as a gradual lifting of the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.
The vote Tuesday opens 50 hours of debate on a budget resolution, with amendment votes expected later this week.