A group of 10 Republican senators sent a letter to President Joe Biden on Sunday proposing a coronavirus relief package smaller than his $ 1.9 trillion plan and asking him to negotiate with them to find a compromise related on the question of the new Covid-19 stimulus efforts.
The number of signatories is significant, as any bill passed under normal Senate rules requires at least 10 GOP supporters to be successful. This practically turns the letter into an offer to work with Democrats to adopt new stimulus measures – under certain conditions.
In the letter, Republican lawmakers – a group that includes Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and other relative moderates – argued that their proposal, which they wanted to publish in full on Monday, could gain bipartisan support as this reflects Biden's request for $ 160 billion for coronavirus testing, tracking, treatment and protection needs.
The legislature also said its bill will include funding direct payments to "families in need of help the most," a reference to some legislators' desire to test direct payments to their needs. Small business support and childcare; and $ 4 billion for mental health and substance use.
They did not provide details, but the Washington Post reports that the GOP proposal would cut the cost of new incentives by $ 1.3 trillion to around $ 600 billion, and do so by slashing a number of Democratic priorities would.
For example, the Democrats have pushed for another round of direct payments of $ 1,400 to individuals earning $ 75,000 or less per year and to couples making $ 150,000 or less. As Senator Bernie Sanders pointed out on ABC Sunday this week, if they won both Senate seats in Georgia’s January runoff election, the Democrats promised there would be another round of direct payments of at least $ 1,400 – and they did too.
"You can't stand up for a series of issues and then after the election, when you come to power, you can say, 'Oh, you know what, we're going to change our minds," Sanders said.
However, adopting the new Republican proposal would force Democrats to do just that – it would reduce direct payments to $ 1,000 per person, the Post reports.
And those payments would likely be sent to a much smaller group of people under the new Republican plan. Ohio Senator Rob Portman, one of the signatories to the letter, told the CNN State of the Union on Sunday that direct payments should be limited to those earning $ 50,000 or families earning $ 100,000. "Let's focus on those who are struggling," Portman said.
Portman also said the Democratic proposal to extend federal unemployment insurance – currently valued at $ 300 a week – through September is premature and that this program should also be more targeted.
Democrats have proposed not just extending this program, but expanding it by increasing the weekly payments to $ 400. The Post reports that the GOP plan is to keep the weekly allowance at $ 300 and to extend the program, which currently expires in March, through June.
The GOP plan also reportedly does away with the Democratic proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $ 15 an hour and would likely reduce the amount of aid available to state and local governments.
The GOP signatories argue in their letter – and in TV appearances on Sunday – that their proposal will allow Biden to keep his promise of "unity," a topic in his inaugural address.
"In a spirit of bipartisanism and unity, we have developed a COVID-19 relief agency that builds on previous COVID support laws, all of which were passed with the support of both parties," the letter said. "We ask for the opportunity to meet with you to discuss our proposal in more detail and how we can work together to meet the needs of the American people during this ongoing pandemic."
And they claim that the Democrats' current plans to get their preferred proposal through Congress through a process known as reconciliation, which allows laws related to budgetary issues in the Senate to be passed by a simple majority (a majority that Democrats now owe of their votes (victories in Georgia) would – in Portman's words – "poison" the well for future attempts at bipartisan legislation.
Union host Dana Bash asked Portman why he had helped Republicans use reconciliation to advance controversial laws, noting that they were involved in both Republican efforts to destroy the Affordable Care Act and get Trump passed Tax cuts were used. Portman replied that "reconciliation is not intended for the purposes for which they are trying to use it," arguing that Democrats should not use reconciliation as their first resort.
However, Democrats have long lagged behind in their efforts to get a comprehensive stimulus package through, reaching a compromise bill in late 2020 after Republicans refused for months to scrutinize a $ 3 trillion bill that was passed in May 2020 .
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he was ready to "work with our Republican counterparts to advance coronavirus aid," but Democrats "are keeping all our options open, including the budget vote."
It remains to be seen what reception the new GOP proposal will receive from Biden. National Economic Council Director Brian Deese appeared on Sunday at the Union's booth and told Bash, "We welcome submissions to say where we may not have done everything right," but argued, "The cost, too Getting Little Right Now the cost of too much outweighs by far. "
There is an urgent need to adopt a new aid package as the federal coronavirus programs come to an end
With many federal coronavirus programs phased out in the coming months, there is an urgent need to work on the next economic round. As Emily Stewart of Vox reported, delays in passing the last round meant gaps in coverage for many unemployed.
On Friday, Biden stressed the importance of passing a coronavirus stimuli law, saying, "I support the passage of the Covid relief with Republican support if we can get it, but the Covid relief needs to be passed . There are no ifs and buts. "
Please also ask whether he supports the adoption of the Covid Facilitation through a budget vote: "I support the adoption of the Covid Facilitation with the support of the Republicans if we can get it, but the Covid Facilitation must be passed. There are no ifs, ands But." pic.twitter.com/rm4etycvKb
– Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) January 29, 2021
Given the democratic majority in the House and the fact that legislation can be passed by a simple majority in this Chamber, the Senate will struggle to pass the aid quickly. There the Democrats were faced with the task of either finding 10 Republicans to support their proposal to compromise with moderate Republicans on a plan put forward by the 10 GOP Senators on Sunday or to pass laws through reconciliation.
For either of these avenues to work in the Senate, the Democrats would have to be a united front. They currently hold the closest possible majority in the evenly split Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris acting as a tie breaker.
And a united front cannot be taken for granted, because there are some right-wing Democrats in the Senate who have not fully accepted all of the proposals in Biden's plan, as Martha Raddatz of ABC asked Sanders about on Sunday.
In particular, she asked Sanders about West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, who said he cared about bipartisan law and did not offer full support for a $ 15 minimum wage. Nor did he say whether he would join the Democrats if they opted for reconciliation. Sanders expressed his belief that "all Democrats understand the need to move forward" with coronavirus relief.
"The question is not non-partisan, but how to tackle these crises now," said Sanders. "If Republicans want to work with us, they have better ideas on how to tackle these crises. That's great." But to be honest, I haven't heard that yet. "
Sanders added that there will be more opportunities for bipartisanism in the future, particularly on issues such as prescription drug reform and infrastructure. "But right now this country is facing an unprecedented series of crises," he said.
One of the signatories to the GOP letter, Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy, suggested Sunday that Republicans had not been given enough opportunity to work on a bipartisan deal.
"If you want unity, you want bipartisanism, you should start with the group that is willing to work together," Cassidy told Fox News on Sunday.
As the Republicans have pointed out, Biden has expressed a desire to work with the Republicans on legislation. But as Vox's Ella Nilsen wrote, Biden's ambitions to work on the gang and get his aid package off may be at odds – especially given the limited level of relief the 10 GOP Senators are now proposing.
And Democrats seem to believe that if they can only fulfill one of the president's ambitions, the priority is getting the package completed. As Nilsen writes:
While Republicans in the bipartisan group are in favor of cutting Biden's Covid-19 bill, Democratic senators in the centrist group have not been as keen to reduce it. Democrats recall that in 2017 Senate Republicans used the budget voting mechanism to pass their massive tax cut laws, and some in the Democratic caucus feel they should treat their priorities equally now that they hold a majority.
Sanders, chairman of the Senate Budgets Committee, and John Yarmuth, chairman of the House Budgets Committee, each told reporters that their committees are working on drafting budgetary vote resolutions for the Covid-19 Aid Act that will be passed in a matter of days could if Schumer and House Spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi give them the go-ahead.
These reconciliation resolutions are expected this week. Republicans can also sign up with them if they choose.
Support Vox explanatory journalism
At Vox, we want to answer your most important questions every day and provide you and our audiences around the world with information that empowers you through understanding. Vox's work reaches more people than ever before, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism is consuming resources. Your financial contribution is not a donation, but it does allow our staff to continue offering free articles, videos and podcasts to everyone who needs them. Please consider contributing to Vox today, starting at $ 3.