Senator Bernie Sanders expressed confidence that Democrats can pass President Joe Biden‘s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package—which includes $1,400 stimulus checks— without Republican support after GOP senators put forward a significantly smaller package.
A group of 10 Senate Republicans, led by Senator Susan Collins of Maine, sent a letter to the White House on Sunday requesting a meeting with Biden to discuss a smaller stimulus proposal that they believed could pass quickly through Congress with bipartisan backing. The proposed package is significantly scaled back, totaling $600 billion—or less than a third of Biden’s proposal—with just $1,000 direct payments.
Although Sanders, a progressive Vermont independent who caucuses with Democrats, reiterated in an interview with ABC News on Sunday that Biden and Democrats want Republican support, he stressed the need to adequately address the crisis. As the chair of the Senate Budgetary Committee, Sanders would play a key role in pushing the package through the budget reconciliation process, which would not necessarily require any GOP backing.
“The question is addressing the unprecedented crisis that we face right now. If Republicans want to work with us, they have better ideas on how to address those crises, that’s great. But, to be honest with you, I have not yet heard that,” Sanders said.
Asked if he thought there was enough Democrat support to pass the legislation without Republicans, Sanders voiced his confidence that centrist Democrats would support such a move if necessary.
“Yes, I believe that we do, because it’s hard for me to imagine any Democrat, no matter what state he or she may come from, who doesn’t understand the need to go forward right now in an aggressive way to protect the working families of this country,” the senator said.
“Look, all of us will have differences of opinion. This is a $1.9 trillion bill. I have differences and concerns about this bill,” Sanders added. “But, at the end of the day, we’re going to support the president of the United States, and we’re going to come forward, and we’re going to do what the American people overwhelmingly want us to do.”
Although he has repeatedly emphasized his goal of working with Republicans and garnering GOP support for his COVID-19 proposal, the president suggested Friday that he supports going through the budget reconciliation process if that’s not possible.
“I support passing COVID relief with support from Republicans if we can get it. But COVID relief has to pass. There’s no ifs, ands or buts,” Biden told reporters.
“We have learned from past crises; the risk is not doing too much, the risk is not doing enough,” the president added.
In the Sunday letter sent by Collins and nine other Republican senators, the group stated their desire to find a bipartisan solution.
“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.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki referred Newsweek to remarks from Brian Deese, the director of the White House’s National Economic Council, in a Sunday interview with CNN when contacted for comment on the letter.
“We’ve received the letter and we certainly will be reviewing it over the course of the day,” Deese told CNN. “What I will say is that the provisions of the president’s plan, the American Rescue plan, were calibrated to the economic crisis that we face.” The economic adviser asserted that the president is “uncompromising when it comes to the speed we need to act at to address this crisis.”
However, as both sides appear to be far apart when it comes to an agreement, Democrats may soon lose patience and turn to reconciliation. Legislation in the Senate is typically subject to the legislative filibuster rule, which requires bills to garner at least 60 votes to pass. But the reconciliation process only requires a slim majority for legislation to be approved.
With an even 50-50 split in the Senate, Democrats could pass the $1.9 trillion package with a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Kamala Harris, who serves as the Senate’s president. Such a scenario assumes that no Republicans would back the package and that all Democrats would be on board.
Newsweek reached out to Collins’ office for comment but did not immediately receive a response.
Updated January 31, 2021 at 2:17 p.m. ET with additional comment from Brian Deese in an interview with CNN.
Correction 3:41 PM ET: An earlier headline mistakenly had the figure of the stimulus checks as $14K. The correct figure is $1.4K. We apologize for the error.