Biden invites GOP senators to White House to discuss COVID relief

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Washington — President Biden on Sunday invited Republican senators to the White House to discuss his COVID-19 economic relief package, hours after a group of 10 GOP senators wrote to him to propose an alternative package. The president has proposed a  $1.9 trillion plan, with $400 billion to slow the spread of COVID-19 and increase vaccine capabilities, and more than $1 trillion to assist families needing direct financial support.

The White House said in a statement Sunday night that Mr. Biden had spoken to his major party leaders — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer — as well as prominent Republican moderate Senator Susan Collins, the leader of the group. 

The White House said the Republicans were invited for a “full exchange of ideas.”

The offer by Republican senators totals $600 billion, or less than a third of the size of the package Mr. Biden is seeking, Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana said on “Fox News Sunday.” The plan calls for $160 billion dollars for vaccine development and distribution and testing and tracing, and an unspecified amount for direct payments to Americans and an extension of expanded unemployment benefits, according to the letter.

“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,” the group wrote. “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. We request the opportunity to meet with you to discuss our proposal in greater detail and how we can work together to meet the needs of the American people during this persistent pandemic.”

The group of Republican senators hopes their package can be a starting point for a bill that garners bipartisan support, as congressional Democrats prepare to move forward with a process known as budget reconciliation to pass Mr. Biden’s plan by a simple majority in the Senate.

Over the past week, Senate Republicans have criticized the $1.9 trillion price tag on Mr. Biden’s proposal and specifically the formula for distributing another round of direct cash payments. Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, one of the letter’s signatories, said in an interview with CNN on Sunday that direct payments would be more targeted in their proposal, capping checks to individuals making up to $50,000 and couples making up to $100,000.

The senators who signed the letter include Collins, Cassidy, Portman, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Todd Young of Indiana, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Mike Rounds of South Dakota and Thom Tillis of North Carolina. 

The GOP group is set to release more details of its proposal on Monday.

Eight of the signatories were part of a bipartisan group of senators met spoke last week with Brian Deese, Mr. Biden’s top economic adviser, about the administration’s coronavirus relief package. Deese said Sunday that the White House planned to review the latest letter, and signaled the president is willing to meet with the group but unwilling to compromise on core provisions of his relief package.

“The president has said repeatedly he is open to ideas wherever they may come, that we could improve upon the approach to actually tackling this crisis,” Deese said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “What he’s uncompromising about is the need to move with speed on a comprehensive approach here … So we need to act comprehensively, and we need to act with speed, but we’re going to continue to have conversations as we go forward.”

Richmond: Biden willing to meet with GOP sena… 07:54

Cedric Richmond, a senior adviser to the president, echoed Deese’s comments, telling CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday that Mr. Biden is “willing to meet with anyone” to move the process forward.

“The president said in his inauguration speech that he wanted to work with both sides in order to help the American people,” Richmond said Sunday. “What we know about President Biden is it’s never about him, it’s always about the people. So yes, he’s very willing to meet with anyone to advance the agenda.”

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