WASHINGTON (UrduPoint News / Sputnik – 02nd February, 2021) US President Joe Biden at a meeting later on Monday will exchange ideas with ten Republican senators who want to slash the administration’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters.
On Sunday, the Republican lawmakers sent Biden an invitation to discuss their virus relief proposal of $618 billion – which is nearly 70 percent lower than the White House plan.
“He is meeting with the ten Republicans who have sent this letter because he feels they made a good faith effort to [bring] that proposal forward, and he wants to have that engagement and encourages that sharing of ideas,” Psaki said.
Biden, who took office on January 20, said it could take a couple of weeks for the Democrat-dominated House of Representatives to finalize his COVID-19 relief plan, expressing hope that the matter would get adequate support from the Republicans in the Senate where the Democrats had a majority of just one.
Republican Senator Susan Collins, one of the ten scheduled to negotiate with the president, tweeted out a joint pledge by the group, saying it wished to work with Biden in “good faith … to meet the health, economic, and societal challenges of the COVID crisis”.
According to the pledge, the group of ten shared many of the Biden administration’s priorities such as increasing funding for the production and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, and providing economic relief for Americans; extending enhanced Federal unemployment benefits and nutrition assistance for struggling families; additional assistance for our small businesses; and getting children safely back to school.
Psaki said Biden’s priority was to address the needs of Americans above bridging political differences with his rivals.
“When the president talks about unifying the country and bringing the country together, he’s not suggesting that he is going to make one party out of the Democratic and Republican parties in Congress,” Psaki said. “We are still at a phase where the House and Senate are still working through the plan. We’ll see what comes out of this meeting today. We saw this as a good faith proposal they put forward to have a discussion and the president’s inviting them here in good faith.”
Should the negotiations stall, Biden has cautioned that the Democrats will use the reconciliation process available to them to push his relief plan through the Senate.
Reconciliation is a process that allows the Senate to pass tax and spending legislation with a bare majority vote. Democrats and Republicans both have 50 seats in the Senate now, with Vice President Kamala Harrris having an additional vote to break the tie.
Congress passed the first Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act under the then Trump administration in March 2020, dispensing roughly $3 trillion as paycheck protection for workers, loans and grants for businesses and other personal aid for qualifying citizens and residents.
After that, Democrats in the House of Representatives got into a messy partisan fight with the Republicans in the Senate on a successive relief plan despite millions of Americans remaining jobless and being unable to pay for mortgage, rent and sometimes even food. The Trump administration subsequently got a $900 billion relief passed under a bipartisan effort, its last, in December.