GOP senators score meeting with Biden to discuss more modest relief plan

Iowa is expected to receive about $1.5 billion from the American Rescue Plan. (Photo by Scalinger/iStock Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Ten Republican senators on Monday took up President Joe Biden on his calls for working across the aisle on coronavirus-related economic relief, though those senators are far from embracing the scale of the $1.9 trillion package that Biden is seeking.

The group of GOP lawmakers — which includes Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Rob Portman of Ohio, Jerry Moran of Kansas and Thom Tillis of North Carolina — sketched out a much smaller, $618 billion proposal, ahead of meeting with Biden at the White House late Monday afternoon.

Following that two-hour meeting with the president and Vice President Kamala Harris, Collins said in brief remarks to reporters that they had a “frank and very useful discussion.”

“It was a very good exchange of views,” Collins said. “I wouldn’t say we came together on a package tonight, no one expected that … but what we did agree to do was follow up and talk further.”

The proposal from the 10 Senate Republicans would provide a similar infusion of funding to what Biden has proposed to pay for more COVID-19 testing and vaccinations.

The GOP plan also would include more direct payments to Americans and extended unemployment benefits, but those checks would be smaller and direct payments would be phased out based on lower income levels.

The Republican proposal also would earmark more help for businesses, and limited help for school reopenings. It does not include $350 billion in aid to state and local governments, or Biden’s call for a $15-an-hour federal minimum wage.

“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 senators wrote to Biden on Sunday, seeking a meeting with him.

“Our proposal reflects many of your stated priorities, and with your support, we believe that this plan could be approved quickly by Congress with bipartisan support.”

By Sunday evening, Biden had offered to meet with the senators Monday afternoon.

Before that huddle, Biden’s press secretary, Jen Psaki, said the meeting would be about swapping ideas, not accepting or rejecting the GOP proposal. She also reiterated that Biden is seeking an aid package that’s significantly larger than what those lawmakers have outlined.

“It’s important to remember that the size of the package was designed with the size of the crisis — dual crises, as we’ve said,” Psaki said.

Biden’s $1.9 trillion proposal follows a $900 billion COVID-19 assistance bill that was signed into law in December. That was the first relief bill to clear both chambers of Congress since the initial $2.2 trillion aid package approved in late March, known as the CARES Act.

While Biden has signaled that he would like to try to bring Republicans on board as he rallies support for what he sees as the first step in a two-part rescue-and-recovery plan, congressional Republicans largely have been skeptical of another wide-ranging aid package.

Democrats file budget blueprint

Shortly before Monday’s meeting between Biden and the GOP senators, congressional Democrats began preparing to move forward with the coronavirus relief measure, with or without Republican support.

With slim majorities for Democrats in both the House and Senate, moving legislation without GOP votes requires using a budgetary process called reconciliation. That approach would allow legislation to be approved with a majority vote, instead of 60 votes, in the Senate.

But that process is lengthy and complex, and requires passing a budget bill. Democratic leaders in the House and Senate said Monday they have filed a joint budget resolution, the first step in passing a budget blueprint.

Meanwhile, a dozen Democratic senators signaled they will again be pushing for more financial relief for state and local governments.

Those senators, who include Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, and Sens. Jacky Rosen and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, released a letter they sent to the two Senate leaders, detailing the layered challenges for states with overburdened unemployment systems, schools struggling with remote learning, and small businesses unable to access loans.

“States and localities are well equipped to address these needs, but they need federal support — and flexibility — to do so,” the Democratic senators wrote. “Further, many municipalities are wrestling with lost revenues that directly impact the delivery of many essential services to our communities.”

The White House also released a letter Monday in which more than 400 mayors urged congressional leaders to approve Biden’s aid package.

They wrote that the direct relief to local governments would allow cities “to preserve critical public sector jobs and help drive our economic recovery,” as well as support efforts for a national vaccination campaign.