President Biden met with with nine Republican Senators Monday at the White House to discuss their proposal for a COVID-19 relief package that believe encompasses “the spirit of bipartisanship and unity.” All the while, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced the plan to file a fiscal-year 2021 budget measure in the Senate and House, saying it would allow Congress to fast-track a coronavirus package for passage by both chambers bypassing Republicans. There’s unity for you!
With the majority of Republicans pushing back on Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief proposal, the budget measure would allow Democrats to bypass a 60-vote threshold in the closely divided Senate and enact coronavirus legislation with a simple majority through a procedure called reconciliation.
It would mark the first time congressional Democrats used the maneuver to flex their legislative muscle since winning razor-thin control of the Senate.
The 100-seat Senate is divided 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris holding the tie-breaking vote to give Democrats the majority.
Schumer spoke ahead of a 5 p.m. (2200 GMT) White House meeting between Biden and 10 Republican senators, who have proposed a scaled-down $618 billion relief package.
“Democrats welcome the ideas and input of our Senate Republican colleagues. The only thing we cannot accept is a package that is too small or too narrow to pull our country out of this emergency,” Schumer said.
Swift congressional action to address the pandemic is a top Biden goal and the president has voiced an interest in working with congressional Republicans. But the White House showed no sign of accepting the Republican proposal.
“The risk is not that it is too big … the risk is that it is too small. And that remains his view, and it’s one he’ll certainly express today,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said ahead of the discussion.
The ten led by Susan Collins and includes Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney, Rob Portman and Thom Tillis Top Democrats in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives filed a joint $1.9 trillion budget measure on Monday, in a step toward bypassing Republicans on COVID-19 relief as President Joe Biden prepared to meet with Republican senators.
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“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,” Republican Senators Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney and seven others said in a statement on Monday.
The Republican plan offers no assistance to state and local governments, one of the items that a Biden adviser described as “must-haves” for Democrats in Congress.
According to details released by the lawmakers, the Republican proposal also falls short on another must-have by offering only $1,000 in direct payments to Americans, compared with the $1,400 sought by Biden and it does not include his federal minimum wage increase.
The plan does include $160 billion for vaccine distribution and development, testing and the production of PPE; $20 billion toward helping schools reopen; additional relief for small businesses; and aid to individuals. The package would also extend the $300 a week unemployment benefits from March until June 30.
“We have not seen many red lines drawn publicly by Democrats in Congress. I think we will see those red lines if the White House considers taking some things out or delaying some items,” the adviser said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Susan Collins said she and the other eight Republican senators had and “excellent” meeting and “productive discussions” with the President, but they did not come to agreement on a package.
What “we did agree to do was to follow up and talk further at the staff level and amongst ourselves and with the president and vice president on how we can continue to work together on this very important issue,” Collins said.
If Schumer were willing to work with Republicans on their measure then those ten votes combined with the backing of 50 Democrats and independents, would be enough to move bipartisan legislation quickly through the Senate.
Sadly Schumer has all but killed the idea with his announcement paving the way to bypass Republicans altogether. Once again it seems Biden’s words of unity are empty and he has every intention of either acting as king writing law through executive orders or using his minions to ram their agenda through Congress in a back door fashion.
Reuters contributed to this report.
ARTICLE SOURCE: thefederalistpapers.org