Ten moderate Republican senators urged US president Joe Biden to significantly downsize his sweeping $1.9 trillion (€1.56 trillion) Covid-19 relief package to win bipartisan support as Democrats in Congress prepared to push ahead with his plan this week.
A top White House economic adviser signalled willingness to discuss the ideas raised by Republican senators who floated a $600 billion (€494 billion) alternative but said the Democratic president was not willing to compromise on the need for a comprehensive bill to address the public health crisis and economic fallout.
“He is open to ideas, wherever they may come.What he’s uncompromising about is the need to move with speed on a comprehensive approach here,” Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council, told NBC’s Meet the Press programme.
“A piecemeal approach is not a recipe for success.”
It was unclear whether the outreach by 10 of the 50 Republicans in the 100-seat chamber would shift plans by congressional Democrats to take up legislation in the coming days.
Mr Biden and fellow Democrats are seeking to make use of their control of the House of Representatives and Senate to move quickly on the president’s top goal of addressing the pandemic.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has said his chamber would begin work on it as early as this week. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Congress would complete a preliminary step before the end of the week.
Congress enacted $4 trillion (€3.2 trillion) in Covid-19 relief last year.
Passage of the new relief legislation not only would impact Americans and businesses reeling during a pandemic that has killed about 440,000 people in the United States but also offers an early test of Mr Biden’s promise to work to bridge the partisan divide in Washington.
Mr Biden, who took office January 20th, has proposed $160 billion (€131.9 billion) for vaccines and testing, $170 billion (€140 billion) for schools and universities, and funds to give certain Americans a $1,400 (€1,150) per-person stimulus check, among other provisions.
Some Republicans have questioned the overall price tag, while others urged more targeted measures, particularly over the direct payments to individuals.
School funding In their letter to Mr Biden, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney and seven other senators asked the president for a meeting and said their compromise plan could be quickly passed with bipartisan support, promising more details on Monday.
They said their bill included more targeted assistance for families in need and additional funds for small businesses, while echoing Mr Biden’s $160 billion for more funding to boost vaccines and testing. They also pointed to unspent money from previous Covid-19 relief bills.
“We’re targeted to the needs of the American people,” Senator Bill Cassidy, one of the 10 senators, told the Fox News Sunday programme.
Mr Cassidy added that their plan included less school funding, saying many private schools had already reopened and that “the real problem is public schools” and “teachers’ unions telling their teachers not to go to work.”
Fellow Republican Rob Portman, who also signed the letter, told CNN’s State of the Union programme that direct checks should be limited to individuals making $50,000 (€41,000) and less and families making $100,000 (€82,000) or less.
The 10 Republicans endorsed keeping extra federal unemployment aid amid the pandemic at $300 (€247) a week versus Mr Biden’s proposed $400 (€329) a week. But Mr Portman questioned the need for Mr Biden planned extension of enhanced unemployment aid through September, noting “we don’t know what the economy is going to look like” then.
Deese said the White House was reviewing the letter from the Republicans but did not say whether Mr Biden would meet with the group, which also included Republicans Shelley Moore Capito, Todd Young, Jerry Moran and Michael Rounds.
Biden “is absolutely willing to negotiate,” Jared Bernstein, a member of the president’s Council of Economic Advisors, told Fox News Sunday, but said more details were needed.
The United States leads the world in Covid-19 cases and deaths by a large margin. Public health experts have urged an immediate scaling up of lagging vaccination efforts as new problematic variants of the novel coronavirus emerge.
At $1.9 trillion, Biden’s plan “is scaled to have the punch to finally put these dual crises behind us,” Bernstein added, referring to virus control and economic relief.
With the Senate split 50-50 and Vice President Kamala Harris wielding the tie-breaking vote, Democrats are considering using a parliamentary tool called “reconciliation” that would let the chamber approve the legislation with a simple majority. Under Senate rules, legislation usually requires 60 votes for passage.