GOP Senators Propose $600 Billion Targeted COVID Relief Package To Counter Biden $1.9 Trillion Pl

A group of 10 “centralist” Republican senators are seeking to negotiate with President Biden on a bipartisan deal as Democrats are forging ahead with his $1.9 trillion COVID relief plan through the means of reconciliation.

“Mr. President, we recognize your calls for unity and want to work in good faith with your Administration to meet the health, economic, and societal challenges of the COVID crisis,” the senators said in a joint letter to Biden.

The senators in the letter also requested a meeting with the President “to discuss our proposal in greater detail and how we can work together to meet the needs of the American people during this persistent pandemic,” adding that they “want to work in good faith.”

The GOP counterproposal is a $618 billion price tag, less than a third of the size of Biden’s $1.9 trillion proposal. The plan keeps $160 billion for vaccine distribution and development,  $132 billion for expanded unemployment benefits, and $220 billion for a new round of direct payments.

Regarding the stimulus check, the plan seeks a strictly target relief checks to individuals but would cap the income level of those who are eligible to receive them at a lower level.  Individuals making less than $50,000 instead of $75,000-$99,000 as with the previous two rounds would receive a stimulus check of $1,000, with couples making $80,000 or less jointly would receive $2,000. An additional $500 would be paid for each dependent child or adult, as well. Individuals making over $50,000 and couples making more than $100,000 would not be eligible for the third round of payments.

The $900 billion relief bill Congress passed in December included $600 stimulus payments to individuals. Biden’s plan includes a new round of $1,400 checks to add on to the $600 and bring the figure to $2,000 — making good on a promise he made to help Democrats win the two Senate runoff seats in Georgia in early January.

On federal unemployment benefits, the plan keeps the extended boost at $300 per week on top of state benefits that would last through June. Biden is proposing extending those benefits with an extra $100 at $400 per week and would last through September.

The GOP proposal does not include any aid for state and local governments and does not touch on increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, two key priorities in Biden’s plan. Biden’s package includes $350 billion in emergency funding for state and local governments.

“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 group wrote in the letter. “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. We request the opportunity to meet with you to discuss our proposal in greater detail and how we can work together to meet the needs of the American people during this persistent pandemic.”

The coalition of centrist Republican senators, led by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) included Rob Portman of Ohio, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Todd Young of Indiana, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Mike Rounds of South Dakota and Thom Tillis of North Carolina. Eight of the senators have met with Brian Deese, Biden’s top economic adviser last week during a bipartisan group of senators meeting about the administration’s coronavirus relief package. 

The group of 10 are scheduled to meet with Biden at the White House Monday at 5 p.m. after the president called Collins on Sunday evening to arrange the meeting to discuss the GOP proposal and his administration’s plan.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Monday that Biden is “happy to have a conversation with them.”

“The president has been clear, since long before he came into office, that he is open to engaging with both Democrats and Republicans in Congress about their ideas, and this is an example of doing exactly that,” Psaki said at a briefing Monday. “What this meeting is not is a forum for the president to make or accept an offer.” 

Biden has left the door open for Democrats to pass his proposal without Republicans if he cannot reach a deal with GOP lawmakers.

“I support passing Covid relief with support from Republicans if we can get it,” Biden told reporters Friday. “But the Covid relief has to pass, there’s no ifs, and or buts.”

With the Senate split 50-50, Democrats need 10 Republicans to get behind Biden’s plan to reach the 60-vote threshold necessary to pass legislation under regular Senate procedures. However, Democrats are planning to bypass the 60-vote requirement using special budget rules that would allow Biden’s package to pass with a simple majority vote of 51 votes. If all 50 Democrats vote in favor, Vice President Kamala Harris can cast the tie-breaking vote to pass the plan.

Meanwhile, Democrats are forging ahead with Biden’s proposal for passage, starting with the introduction of a budget resolution, a long and thorny process that would allow them to approve a bill with no Republican votes in Congress. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) introduced a budget resolution earlier on Monday, the initial step toward using the reconciliation process that requires only a majority vote to pass. The House aims to approve the measure this week.

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