“What this meeting is not is a forum for the president to make or accept an offer,” Psaki said at a White House briefing. “But it’s important to him that he hears this group out on their concerns, on their ideas. He’s always open to making this package stronger.”
As Psaki was briefing reporters, Biden tweeted in support of his proposed relief bill and called on Congress to pass it “immediately.”
And not long after that, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced they were filing budget bills designed to fast-track Biden’s relief package through the Senate, without GOP votes if necessary.
“Congress has a responsibility to quickly deliver immediate comprehensive relief to the American people hurting from covid-19,” Schumer and Pelosi said in a statement. “The cost of inaction is high and growing, and the time for decisive action is now. With this budget resolution, the Democratic Congress is paving the way for the landmark Biden-Harris coronavirus package that will crush the virus and deliver real relief to families and communities in need.”
Taken together, the move by Congress’ Democratic leaders — along with the comments from Biden and Psaki — appeared to leave little room for a compromise to emerge from the meeting between Biden and 10 GOP senators who are calling on the president to honor his inaugural pledges for unity and bipartisanship.
“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, led by Susan Collins (R-Maine), said in a statement.
The Monday meeting with the GOP senators poses a test for the new president, who campaigned on his ability to make bipartisan deals. But he also faces strong pressure from the left to deliver a big new relief package now that Democrats control both chambers of Congress and the White House.
If he does leave Republicans behind on his first major piece of legislation, that could further harden the partisan divides Biden promised he would try to bridge, and sour chances for bipartisan legislation for the remainder of his first term in office. But negotiating with Republicans could drag out indefinitely with no guarantee of success, even as Democrats are demanding quick action at a precarious moment for the economy and the pandemic.
It will be Biden’s first in-person meeting at the White House with lawmakers of either party since becoming president.
“I think the Republican offer is sincere, but Biden and Republicans have VERY different ideas for how we address this crisis and voters very deliberately chose Biden’s agenda,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said on Twitter. “Some compromise is always warranted, but we have an obligation to see the voters’ intent through.”
The plan by the group of Senate Republicans includes a new round of stimulus checks to Americans and an extension of unemployment insurance benefits that are set to expire in mid-March. Both programs would be far more limited under the GOP plan than what Biden has proposed.
The proposal matches Biden’s call for $160 billion in funding for a national vaccination program, increased testing and related health-care spending. It omits any new money for state and local governments — a major Democratic priority included in Biden’s plan — but includes $40 billion for the small-business Paycheck Protection Program.
Republicans have dismissed Biden’s proposal as overly costly in light of $4 trillion already committed by Congress to fighting the pandemic, including $900 billion in December. But the GOP counter-offer came under immediate criticism from Democrats, with Schumer criticizing the exclusion of money for state and local governments.
One area where Biden has suggested he is willing to compromise is on the structure of a new round of stimulus checks. The $900 billion relief bill Congress passed in December included $600 stimulus checks to individuals. Biden’s plan includes a new batch of $1,400 checks, bringing the total to $2,000. That would make good on promises Biden made to Georgia voters ahead of a special Senate election in early January that Democrats won, giving them the Senate majority.
Biden’s plan phases out checks for individuals making $75,0000 a year and couples making $150,000 a year.
The GOP plan reduces the size of the checks to $1,000 from $1,400, and caps the income eligibility levels at $50,000 for individuals and $100,000 for couples. The GOP plan would also send just $500 to children and adult dependents, compared with $1,400 in the Biden plan.
Because of how dependents are counted in the Biden proposal, some families making $300,000 or more a year could see some benefit from the stimulus checks, leading senators of both parties to suggest the checks should be more targeted.
Biden’s plan includes an array of other items omitted from the GOP proposal, including rental assistance and eviction forbearance, an increased child tax credit, and an increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Biden’s plan would also increase emergency unemployment benefits from $300 a week to $400 a week and extend them through September; the GOP plan would leave the payments at $300 a week and extend them through June. If Congress does not act, the enhanced unemployment insurance will expire in mid-March.
In addition to Collins, the senators involved in Monday’s meeting are Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Mitt Romney (Utah), Bill Cassidy (La.), Rob Portman (Ohio), Todd C. Young (Ind.), Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), Jerry Moran (Kan.), Thom Tillis (N.C.), and Mike Rounds (S.D.).
The significance of assembling a group of 10 Republican senators is that, if joined by Democrats, they could reach the 60-vote threshold needed to pass legislation under normal Senate procedures. The Senate is split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats, with Democrats holding the majority because Vice President Harris can break ties.