Republicans outlined their plan as the Congressional Budget Office projected that the American economy would return to its pre-pandemic size by the middle of this year, even if Congress did not approve any more federal aid for the recovery, but that it would be years before everyone thrown off the job by the pandemic would be able to return to work.
The rosier-than-expected projections were likely to inject even more debate into the discussions over the stimulus measure, emboldening those who have pushed Mr. Biden to scale back his plan. But they also indicated that there was little risk that another substantial package of federal aid could “overheat” the economy, and reflected the prolonged difficulties of shaking off the virus and returning to full levels of economic activity.
The Republicans’ $618 billion proposal would include many of the same elements as Mr. Biden’s plan, with $160 billion for vaccine distribution and development, coronavirus testing and the production of personal protective equipment; $20 billion to help schools reopen; more relief for small businesses; and additional aid to individuals. But it differs in ways large and small, omitting a federal minimum wage increase or direct aid to states and cities.
It would slash the direct payments to Americans, providing $1,000 instead of $1,400 and limiting them to the lowest income earners, excluding individuals who earned more than $50,000. It would also pare back federal jobless aid, which is set to lapse in March, setting weekly payments at $300 through June instead of $400 through September.
On Capitol Hill, top Democrats said they were worried a smaller package would not adequately meet the needs of struggling Americans.
“This proposal is an insult to the millions of workers and families struggling to survive this crisis,” Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon and the incoming Finance Committee chairman, said of the Republican plan. “A bill that sets up yet another cliff for jobless workers in a few short months is a nonstarter.”
Hours before Mr. Biden sat down with the Republicans, Democratic leaders began laying the groundwork to move forward on their own, if necessary, with the president’s $1.9 trillion plan through a process known as budget reconciliation, which would allow it to bypass any Republican filibuster with a mere majority vote.