Joe Biden and his new treasury secretary, Janet Yellen, are encouraging Democrats in Congress to go big and bold on the Covid-19 relief package and have effectively panned a Republican alternative that is less than a third the size of the president’s $1.9tn rescue plan.
Senate Democrats took steps on Tuesday to push ahead with the huge bill, with or without Republican support, despite the ostensibly amicable bipartisan talks at the White House the day before.
Chuck Schumer, the Senate majority leader, warned that the coronavirus crisis could drag on for several years unless maximum effort for large-scale relief is made on Capitol Hill.
Democrats voted to launch a process that could approve the sweeping rescue package on their own if necessary.
On Tuesday, Biden and Yellen joined the Democratic senators for a private virtual meeting and both declared the Republicans’ $618bn relief offer too small.
They urged ambitious and fast action to stem the coronavirus pandemic crisis and its economic fallout.
Biden on Wednesday was meeting with congressional Democrats. In a call-in to the weekly meeting of Democratic representatives he said he was willing to consider tighter limits on who gets $1,400 direct payments under his Covid-19 relief plan but not the size of the checks, CNN reported.
The president invited incoming Democratic chairs of some key Senate committees to the Oval Office.
“This is their new home for a while anyway,” Biden said. “And with a little bit of luck, the grace of God and the goodwill of the neighbors, and the crick not rising, it’s going to be longer than just four years.”
Asked whether he believed any Republican lawmakers would support his relief proposal, Biden replied: “I think we’ll get some Republicans.”
Earlier, Senators Chris Coons and Tom Carper of Delaware emerged from an hour-long meeting with Biden at the White House.
Carper said the trio discussed the need to confirm Biden’s cabinet nominees, as well as president’s coronavirus relief proposal.
Coons pushed for financing global vaccine relief. He noted to reporters after that it is in Biden’s coronavirus relief proposal but not in the counter proposal from 10 Republicans, and is how US can restore its global leadership.
As the White House reaches for a bipartisan bill, Democrats marshaled their slim Senate majority, voting 50-49, to start a lengthy process for approving Biden’s bill with a simple majority.
The goal is to have Covid-19 relief approved by March, when extra unemployment assistance and other pandemic aid expires.
“President Biden spoke about the need for Congress to respond boldly and quickly,” Schumer said after the lunch meeting, and, referring to the GOP counter offer, he added: “If we did a package that small, we’d be mired in the Covid crisis for years.”
Biden framed his views during the virtual lunch meeting with Democrats by talking about the need not to forget working- and middle-class families – even those like nurses and pipe-fitters making $150,000 for a family of four – who are straining during the crisis, according to a person granted anonymity to discuss the private call.
The night before, Biden met with 10 Republican senators pitching their $618bn alternative, and let them know it was insufficient to meet the country’s needs. The president made it clear that he will not delay aid in hopes of winning GOP support.
While no compromise was reached during the late Monday session, White House talks with Republicans are privately under way.
The outcome will test the new president striving to unify the country but confronting a rising Covid-19 death toll and stubbornly high jobless numbers, with political risks for all sides.
Vaccine distributions, direct $1,400 payments to households, school reopenings and business aid are all on the line.
The Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, criticized the Democrats for pressing ahead on their own. He said he had spoken to Biden ahead of his meeting with the 10 GOP senators.
“They’ve chosen a totally partisan path,” McConnell said. “That’s unfortunate.”
White House officials have previously cited the US Chamber of Commerce as evidence of broad support for their plan, but the nation’s most prominent business group issued a letter on Tuesday that urged a bipartisan compromise.
“There ought to be common ground for a bipartisan proposal that can become law,” Neil Bradley, executive vice-president and chief policy officer, said in an interview.
The cornerstone of the GOP plan is $160bn for the healthcare response and vaccine distribution, a “massive expansion” of testing, protective gear and funds for rural hospitals, similar to what Biden has proposed.
But from there, the two plans drastically diverge.
The vote on Tuesday opens 50 hours of debate on a budget resolution, with amendment votes expected later this week.