But hopes for a rare bipartisanship at the start of the new administration still seem doubtful, as the proposal, introduced by Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine and her colleagues, has a potentially fatal catch. That’s less than a third of the size of the economic shock the nation needs, according to the White House.
Biden’s original legislation provides direct payments to most Americans and extends unemployment benefits through September to fill the huge hole in the economy created by the pandemic. It also raises the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, fulfilling a key campaign promise. The plan includes hundreds of billions of dollars to expand covid 19 testing, improve vaccination coverage and get children back to school.
The president must now assess whether the new Republican proposal is a sincere attempt to find common ground or a bluff that, if accepted, will damage the new president’s long-term credibility and political capital.
And while Biden is enthusiastic about his ability to make a divided Washington work, he knows he risks tearing up Democratic support on Capitol Hill if he significantly curtails his own plan to win Republican support in the Senate.
While the White House welcomes the willingness of 10 Republicans to engage with the president, it also points out delicately that a plan that falls far short of Biden’s ambitions would not be acceptable.
As leading economists have said, the danger lies not in doing too much, but in doing too little. Americans from both parties are eager to meet with their leaders, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Sunday night in a statement.
The senators said Sunday in a joint statement that they appreciated Biden’s quick response to their proposal and accepted an invitation to meet with the president Monday afternoon at the White House.
The intrigue surrounding Covid’s succession talks adds a new high-level confrontation to an already tense and combative moment on Capitol Hill, as political forces emerge to shape the first two years of a Biden presidency. The fierce distrust between Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives – over personal safety following the Sixth Hour Uprising initiated by former President Donald Trump – is worrying. January – means that any hope of bipartisan negotiations to get Covid released is almost inconceivable. Trump’s decision to take control of the House caucus, with his meeting last week with House minority leader Kevin McCarthy and his phone conversation over the weekend with a QAnon supporter and Marjorie Taylor Green of Georgia, is sure to inject new venom into the political atmosphere.
And the prospects for negotiations between the two parties in the Senate are bleak as the House of Representatives prepares for Trump’s impeachment trial next week, where it is already clear that Republicans are determined enough to avoid a two-thirds majority to exonerate him from the most blatant attack on the US government in history by a president.
Meanwhile, Biden will try to maintain the momentum of his first weeks in office, with a major foreign policy speech (rescheduled from Monday to later in the week due to a snowstorm) and new initiatives to address the jobs crisis.
Democrats are willing to move despite GOP proposal
This week, Democratic leaders in Congress are already poised to embark on a path that will set in motion a controversial budget process known as reconciliation to pass a $1.9 trillion bailout bill without a vote from the GOP – a move that Biden’s critics are sure to use to prove his unity and show that the negotiating proposals are hollow. Reconciliation is a measure that allows for the swift passage of laws on budget, spending and debt. It’s questionable because it would allow Democrats to pass the package with a simple majority and bypass the Republican filibuster tactic rooted in the supermajority of 60 needed to get most legislation through the House.
The new president’s dilemma is exactly the scenario he said he could follow during the election campaign, given his years of experience in the Senate. The extreme political circumstances surrounding his first big case explain why many key figures in Washington, D.C., on both sides of the aisle have long been skeptical of his bipartisan aspirations.
With Democrats insisting on using their weak House and Senate majorities to act quickly, Biden should also consider how to reject GOP candidates he deems inadequate to prevent future bipartisan coalitions from falling apart.
The Republican plan includes pledges from 10 senators – enough for the Senate to pass it under normal rules and for Biden to secure a rare victory that would unite a Democratic president and a large group of GOP members. Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, Collins and Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, whom Biden hopes will be involved in a future bipartisan effort, are among the senators who have joined the counter-proposal.
Hopes for a deal, however, likely hinge on whether the Republican plan is an attempt to start negotiations that could lead to a significant increase in the premium, or a token gesture that was never intended to succeed.
If so, the Republican plan will seem like nothing more than an attempt to relieve pressure on the party to come up with its own version of a credible rescue plan and a trap to divide the new party chairman.
Speaking on CNN about the State of the Union, Biden said Sunday that Brian Dees, director of the National Economic Council, said the president’s plan is directly in line with the magnitude of the challenges facing the economy.
We are facing a unique crisis. And elements of that plan were indeed designed and intended to take responsibility for the crisis, Deese said, referring to the worst economic year since World War II, a million new unemployment claims and 30 million Americans short of food.
In addition to this frightening reality, Deese also warned that the recovery plan must be large enough to speed up the introduction of vaccines to end the pandemic and help millions of children return to school.
We are certainly open to the participation of anyone who can come up with a constructive idea to make this package as effective as possible. But the president is adamant about how quickly we must act to address this crisis, Deese said.
Later on Sunday, after Biden met with his advisers to discuss the aid package, a senior administration official said Biden was open to some discussion but that the Republicans’ $600 billion plan would not be enough to satisfy the itch.
The official offered the GOP’s group roots and told CNN’s Pamela Brown that the president was specifically willing to talk about eliminating stimulus checks for families earning more than $150,000 a year.
One complication is that a smaller GOP plan would likely force the White House to try to further extend unemployment benefits on Capitol Hill in the coming months, at a time when the already treacherous political climate is likely to worsen and make a deal even more difficult.
All indications are that Democrats on Capitol Hill have little appetite for a GOP counteroffer, just when many are warning that quick action is essential to prevent the economy from sliding into an even deeper hole.
Senate Democratic majority leader Chuck Schumer told the New York Daily News that the Republican proposal was inadequate.
They need to negotiate with us, not make a take-it-or-leave-it offer, he said.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders said this week on ABC News that he thinks Democrats have enough votes to pass the bill via reconciliation.
Signs that two-party operation will prove impossible
The gap between the two contrasting perceptions of the magnitude of the crisis and what can be done about it became apparent when CNN’s Dana Bash interviewed Ohio Senator Rob Portman, one of 10 Republican senators who spoke out during the State of the Union for a smaller alternative plan.
I think it’s incredible that you gave a great speech at the inauguration, that you talked about the need for recovery and the need to work together as a country, both Republicans and Democrats, and that you promised to work more with the Republicans. The next day you put a $1.9 trillion Covid 19 package on our table, whereas just a month ago we put out a $900 billion Covid 19 package that was fully supported by both parties, Portman said.
Portman also criticized the possible use of reconciliation – although Republicans used it in the previous administration to push through Trump’s massive tax-cutting bill and to try to repeal the Affordable Care Act – arguing that it could tear the country apart.
However, many Democrats expect that most Americans will not be deterred by an obscure parliamentary procedure. For them, passage of the bill in its entirety without Republican support is not only critical to consolidating a deeply destabilized economy, but also a crucial moment that can be used to demonstrate the power of Democrats in Washington at the opening of a new presidential term. And there are fears that the scenario that played out during the attempted takeover of the ACA under the Obama administration could be repeated. The former president spent some time trying to accommodate some of the GOP’s goals, a process that delayed the bill for months, but the Republican Party still rejected it.
And if Biden fails to convince Republicans to significantly increase his proposal, his own need to appear credible and address the crisis that will define his presidency will likely weigh on his hopes of winning votes from Republicans that, strictly speaking, he doesn’t need.