Why 10 Republican Senators are negotiating with Biden over Covid-19 support

On Monday, President Joe Biden gets his first bang in bipartisan negotiations and met with a group of 10 Senate Republicans on Monday evening to see if there could be a compromise on the president’s $ 1.9 trillion relief plan for Covid-19 can be entered.

Biden’s White House has repeatedly said that getting a non-partisan deal is a top priority. But prolonged negotiations with Republicans and trying to strike an acceptable middle ground could complicate both the speed and audacity of Biden’s first major legislative proposal.

There’s a lot of daylight between Biden’s plan and the Senate Republican’s $ 618 billion proposal, led by Senator Susan Collins (R-ME). The GOP proposal is less than half the price proposed by Biden and does not reduce or include many democratic priorities.

“I am confident that we can again pass a sixth non-partisan Covid aid package,” Collins told reporters after a two-hour meeting at the White House on Monday evening. Collins added that “I wouldn’t say we came together on a package tonight,” Republicans planned to keep talking to Biden’s team in hopes of reaching an agreement.

The fact that 10 Republicans are behind the plan is significant; With Democrats controlling a 50-50 split in the Senate, those 10 Republican votes could push the proposal above the 60-vote threshold required to bypass the Senate filibuster in the unlikely situation of that too the entire democratic caucus is behind it.

There are two big questions here. One is whether this group of Republican Senators sees their $ 618 billion number as a starting point to negotiate with Biden and is willing to go higher, or whether they want to draw a red line there. The other question is, will Biden bite what they propose. So far, the White House has been advising that the president is not particularly interested.

“There’s obviously a huge gap between $ 600 billion and $ 1.9 trillion,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Monday. “He thinks the package size should be closer to what he suggested than smaller.”

Biden and Democrats don’t really need Republican support to get his package through. You can technically achieve it through the Senate alone through a process known as budget reconciliation. While Biden prepared to meet with the Republicans, House spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi and Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer announced on Monday that they had tabled a joint budget resolution – essentially the first step in the reconciliation process.

Biden made non-partisanship one of the hallmarks of his campaign and emphasized it again in his inaugural address. Republicans argue that working with them on a stimulus package would be a great way to prove that Biden’s focus on non-partisanship was more than rhetoric.

“If you want to take it easy, work with us on a bipartisan solution,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), one of the 10 Republicans, Vox in a recent interview. “And then later use your political muscles with reconciliation, but at least show the value of working together.”

However, the White House had repeatedly insisted that its proposal had widespread public support and called for a bold relief bill to be passed quickly – which could be delayed by lengthy negotiations.

Congressional Democrats believe Republicans grossly underestimate the amount of money needed for a strong economic recovery – and they point out that the GOP previously used the reconciliation process to move its priorities forward quickly, including trying to make the law affordable Care to decipher.

Who are the Republicans negotiating with Biden?

The group of 10 Republicans who drew up the $ 618 billion Covid-19 proposal is led by some moderates who appear to be ready to negotiate with Biden. But the entire group of senators ranges from moderate to conservative and includes:

Susan Collins (R-ME) Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) Bill Cassidy (R-LA) Mitt Romney (R-UT) Rob Portman (R-OH) Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) Todd Young (R-IN) Jerry Moran (R-KS) Mike Rounds (R-SD) Thom Tillis (R-NC)

It’s important to distinguish this group of Republicans from the non-partisan group of Republicans and Senate Democrats who worked together to propose the framework for a $ 900 billion Covid-19 relief bill passed in December. There’s even a newer version of this bipartisan group with 16 senators meeting to talk about further Covid-19 relief. It is this non-partisan group of 16 senators that has made numerous phone calls to senior White House officials, but not in-person meetings with Biden himself.

Now some of the Republican members of this group – Collins, Murkowski, Romney, and Cassidy – are going their own way. And while this new $ 618 billion Republican counter-offer doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the Senate bipartisan working group, it was a GOP-led effort, a Senate Democratic adviser told Vox.

Psaki told reporters that Biden was delighted that there was a Republican group that would like to meet with him, but reiterated that Biden would not make final decisions on their proposal on Monday.

“It’s an exchange of views,” said Psaki. “This group sent a letter with some outlines and headings with their concerns and priorities. What this meeting is not is a forum for the President to make or accept an offer. “

What kind of coronavirus stimulus do the 10 GOP senators want?

The GOP proposal is primarily focused on accelerating vaccine distribution and allocates $ 160 billion to that effort. This largely mirrors Biden’s plan, although the president’s overall vaccination plan is closer to $ 400 billion, including much more money to reopen the school and build the health care workforce.

Things deviate even more from there.

The Republican plan would fund $ 300 weekly unemployment insurance through June (Biden’s plan provides $ 400 weekly unemployment benefits through September). The Republican plan provides for $ 1,000 stimulus checks, but only for those earning a maximum of $ 50,000 per year as an individual and $ 100,000 per year as a couple. (Biden’s plan would send 1,400 stimulus checks to anyone making less than $ 75,000 on an individual level, and $ 150,000 as a couple – Democrats who campaigned for this amount firmly believed it should be included in any final bill.

Many Democrats wonder if these Republicans are using their $ 618 billion number as the base or cap on talking to Biden. Vox turned to five Republican offices and asked if the Senators were using the number as a starting point for negotiation or if they would stick with the number. No bureau had responded at the time of going to press. In an interview with Vox on Friday, however, Murkowski seemed to suggest an openness to higher goals.

“I want to find a way to be helpful there,” Murkowski told Vox on Friday. “There are a lot of people who say it’s $ 1.9 trillion or nothing. Can we agree that 80 percent is better than 100 percent? For some, that’s not the case, and I think we’re seeing that right now. “

It’s not yet clear how willing Democrats are to take 80 percent in the name of non-partisanship when they could have 100 percent if they go ahead on their own. But Democratic leaders will still have the opportunity to speak out on the matter, the White House said.

Biden meets with this group of Republican Senators at the White House before having a face-to-face meeting with senior Democratic members of the Congressional leadership such as Pelosi and Schumer, though Psaki noted that Biden communicated with these two on a regular basis.

“You have been in close contact with the president and members of the senior team,” Psaki told reporters. “There will definitely be Democrats taking part in talks here at the White House.”

The GOP is testing whether Biden wants more bipartisanism than a bold bill

President Biden will either be able to vote his $ 1.9 trillion bailout bill on a party line or be bipartisan. He probably can’t have both.

Biden’s White House has repeatedly stated that it is open to “talking” about its proposal and is ready to hear “tweaks” and recommendations to improve the bill. What is less clear is whether the president is willing to reduce the scope and ambitions of his proposal – particularly the $ 1.9 trillion price tag.

“I’m sure they’d love to work with us if we could agree on everything they suggested,” Senator Mitt Romney told Vox last week. “How willing they are to work with us when we have ideas to take this apart and maybe have two laws or adapt certain elements, they would have to react to that.”

Biden’s White House has already clearly stated that they will not split Biden’s package into several parts. And while Biden may be open to slashing the total number of his plan, Psaki poured cold water on the idea of ​​bringing it down to $ 600 billion – repeatedly saying the president believes there is more danger in Congress than too little too little to do much.

There may be room for Biden to hang out with Republicans in the middle, but it remains to be seen whether both sides dig in their heels or are ready to give and take. republican I have warned that if there is no room for compromise on Biden’s very first legislative priority, it could create problems in negotiating the President’s upcoming recovery package – which will likely include an infrastructure component.

“As we move towards reconciliation next week, I wonder what signal will be sent to those of us who want to try to advance solutions that may not be 100 percent solutions but 80 percent solutions,” Murkowski told Vox .

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