Joe Biden To Meet Senate Republicans Over Coronavirus Relief Bill

President Joe Biden will meet with 10 Republican senators on Monday after they unveiled an alternative coronavirus relief bill and expressed a willingness to negotiate a bipartisan deal, as reported by the Associated Press. Speaking on Sunday night, White House press secretary Jen Psaki revealed that Biden had extended an invitation to the group for “a full exchange of views,” while speaking to Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.

Before the Republican intervention, Democratic lawmakers planned to begin efforts to pass Biden’s $1.9 trillion bill without GOP support. The effort by the 10 Republicans would allow it to reach the supermajority requirement of the Senate with 60 votes, but would mean the scaling down of the relief to about one-third of its spending.

Psaki said Biden had also spoken with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who are facing pressure from more liberal lawmakers to not compromise when a path is possible. She reiterated that the president’s decision to discuss the bill with Republicans does not mean it will be downsized.

“With the virus posing a grave threat to the country, and economic conditions grim for so many, the need for action is urgent, and the scale of what must be done is large,” Psaki said.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) questions Avril Haines during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee to be President-elect Joe Biden's pick for national intelligence director on January 19, 2021 in Washington, DC.

The 10 Republican senators wrote a letter to Biden on Sunday calling for a unified approach to coronavirus relief. The counterproposal includes $160 billion for vaccines, testing, treatment and personal protective equipment, while the $1,400 stimulus checks would receive a more targeted approach.

“In the spirit of bipartisanship and unity, we have developed a COVID-19 relief framework that builds on prior COVID assistance laws, all of which passed with bipartisan support. Our proposal reflects many of your stated priorities, and with your support, we believe that this plan could be approved quickly by Congress with bipartisan support,” they wrote.

Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana said that the final cost of the Republican bill would be about $600 billion. He also criticized the current bill as one that would serve the special interests of Democrats.

“You want the patina of bipartisanship… so that’s not unity,” he said.

Despite the meeting, Democrats in Congress are ready to take the route of budget reconciliation to secure coronavirus relief as early as this week. This tactic means that the House and Senate will pass budget resolutions allowing them to quickly approve Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus plan without Republican support. Psaki acknowledged that the $1,400 relief checks, funding for reopening schools and aid to small businesses, among others, can’t be negotiated away and warned against doing too little in the face of the pandemic.