WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden told a group of 10 Republican senators their roughly $600 billion counteroffer on a COVID-19 stimulus package was “way too small,” top Senate Democratic leaders said Tuesday following a virtual meeting with Biden and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.
“He said that he told Senate Republicans that the $600 billion that they proposed is way too small,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters following the Senate Democrats’ meeting.
And Biden’s message to Democrats during their virtual meeting was to “go big,” said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., who agreed with the sentiment.
The Democrat-led Senate advanced a process known as reconciliation that would allow them to pass Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief proposal with just a simple majority and without Republican votes. It would avoid a filibuster, a key procedural obstacle requiring at least 10 Republicans to support the legislation’s advancement.
Republicans blasted the move. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, said there had not been enough of a bipartisan effort on the COVID relief bill and that it would be “unfortunate if we go down this road” to pass a large bill with provisions like a $15 minimum wage he said were unrelated to the pandemic.
But he added Democrats “have the power (to use reconciliation) and they’re using it,” acknowledging the argument from Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the incoming chair of the Senate Budget Committee. Sanders earlier on the Senate floor said Republicans had used the process to try to pass large pieces of legislation in the past like a 2017 effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act or a 2017 tax reform.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., criticized Democrats’ decision to advance a reconciliation measure.
“They’ve chosen a totally partisan path,” McConnell said of Democrats. “We’re off to a totally partisan start. I think that’s unfortunate.”
He said during the Senate’s weekly Republican lunch, the 10 Republican senators who met with Biden briefed the conference. McConnell said the 10 senators felt Biden “seemed more interested” in a bipartisan plan than his staff or Democratic leadership.
McConnell said he and Biden talked Monday about a bipartisan path forard on COVID relief but did not elaborate on their conversation.
One moderate Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., announced Tuesday he would support advancing the legislation using reconciliation but said he told Biden the focus must be “targeted on the COVID-19 crisis” and those most affected by the pandemic. But he told reporters he would not support a $15 minimum wage, a provision Democrats may have to cut if they want to pass the relief package through reconciliation.
How the plans compare:5 charts show the wide gap between Biden’s, Republicans’ coronavirus stimulus proposals
Senate Republicans have expressed opposition to parts of Biden’s plan, saying the $1.9 trillion price tag is too high and that they need to evaluate the impact of a $900 billion package passed in December. They also oppose the inclusion of policies like the minimum wage increase, which they do not see as necessary for a COVID-19 relief bill.
The $15 minimum wage was “not relevant to treatment or the economic recovery, or getting vaccines out,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, one of the Republican senators who met with Biden. “In fact it would be very difficult for the hospitality industry, which has been particularly harmed.”
The group of Republican senators met with Biden on Monday evening after releasing its own $618 billion proposal that scaled back some of the provisions in Biden’s plan. Biden and Yellen found their proposal insufficient to address the COVID-19 pandemic, Schumer said, though he noted Biden told Democrats he was open to “some modifications” on the relief bill.
White House Press Secretary Jennifer Psaki said in a Tuesday briefing Biden still wants to pass a $1.9 trillion measure.
Yellen had “specifically noted” the Republican plan did not include expansions of the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit, programs benefiting low-income families, and therefore “didn’t do enough to help,” Schumer said.
Democrats say they need to pass a larger COVID-19 relief package now rather than wait and pass multiple ones out of fears the economy might not fully recover without a large infusion of aid now.
Contributing: Courtney Subramanian and Christal Hayes