WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — President Joe Biden has invited to the White House a group of 10 Republican senators who have proposed spending about one-third of what he is seeking in coronavirus aid.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Sunday that Biden had spoken with the leader of the group, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. The invitation to meet came hours after the lawmakers sent Biden a letter urging him to negotiate rather than try to ram through his $1.9 trillion package solely on Democratic votes.
Though Biden is wanting “a full exchange of views,” Psaki reiterated that he remains in favor of moving forward with a far-reaching relief package.
“With the virus posing a grave threat to the country, and economic conditions grim for so many, the need for action is urgent, and the scale of what must be done is large,” Psaki said.
The meeting would amount to the most public involvement for Biden in the negotiations for the next round of virus relief. Democrats and Republicans are far apart in their proposals for assistance.
In challenging Biden to fulfill his pledge of unity, the group said in a letter that their counterproposal will include $160 billion for vaccines, testing, treatment, and personal protective equipment and will call for more targeted relief than Biden’s plan to issue $1,400 stimulus checks for most Americans.
Winning the support of 10 Republicans would be significant for Biden in the 50-50 Senate where Vice President Kamala Harris is the tie-breaker. If all Democrats were to back an eventual compromise bill, the legislation would reach the 60-vote threshold necessary to overcome potential blocking efforts and pass under regular Senate procedures.
“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 Republican senators 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.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has said his chamber would begin work on it as early as this week. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Congress would complete a preliminary step before the end of the week.
Biden, who took office Jan. 20, has proposed $160 billion for vaccines and testing, $170 billion for schools and universities, and funds to give certain Americans a $1,400 per-person stimulus check, among other provisions.
Some Republicans have questioned the overall price tag, while others urged more targeted measures, particularly over the direct payments to individuals.
The plea for Biden to give bipartisan negotiations more time comes as the president has shown signs of impatience as the more liberal wing of his party considers passing the relief package through a process known as budget reconciliation. That would allow the bill to advance with only the backing of his Democratic majority.
Biden and fellow Democrats are seeking to make use of their control of the House of Representatives and Senate to move quickly on the president’s top goal of addressing the pandemic.
In their letter to Biden, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney, and seven other senators asked Biden for a meeting and said their compromise plan could be quickly passed with bipartisan support, promising more details on Monday.
They said their bill included more targeted assistance for families in need and additional funds for small businesses while echoing Biden’s $160 billion for more funding to boost vaccines and testing. They also pointed to unspent money from previous COVID-19 relief bills.
One of the signatories, Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy, said that it would cost about $600 billion.
“If you can’t find bipartisan compromise on COVID-19, I don’t know where you can find it,” said Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, who also signed the letter.
But even as Biden extended the invitation to the Republican lawmakers, Psaki said that $1,400 relief checks, substantial funding for reopening schools, aid to small businesses and hurting families, and more “is badly needed.”
“As leading economists have said, the danger now is not in doing too much: it is in doing too little,” Psaki said. “Americans of both parties are looking to their leaders to meet the moment.”
Biden also spoke on Sunday with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who are facing a growing push from the more liberal Democratic members to move forward with Biden’s legislation with or without Republican support.
The other GOP senators are Susan Collins of Maine, 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.
Under the Biden plan, families with incomes up to $300,000 could receive some stimulus money.
As a candidate, Biden predicted his decades in the Senate and his eight years as Barack Obama’s vice president gave him credibility as a deal-maker and would help him bring Republicans and Democrats to a consensus on the most important matters facing the country.
But less than two weeks into his presidency, Biden showed frustration with the pace of negotiations at a time when the economy exhibited further evidence of wear from the pandemic. Last week, 847,000 Americans applied for unemployment benefits, a sign that layoffs remain high as the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage.
“I support passing COVID relief with support from Republicans if we can get it. But the COVID relief has to pass — no ifs, ands or buts,” Biden said on Friday.
In the letter, the Republican lawmakers reminded Biden that in his inaugural address, he proclaimed that the challenges facing the nation require “the most elusive of things in a democracy: Unity.”
Cassidy separately criticized the current Biden plan as “chock-full of handouts and payoffs to Democratic constituency groups.”
“You want the patina of bipartisanship … so that’s not unity,” Cassidy said.
Jared Bernstein, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said Biden remains willing to negotiate but that officials needed to see more details from Republicans. At the same time, Bernstein pressed the administration’s argument that doing too little to stimulate the economy could have an enormous impact on the economy in the near- and long-term.
“Look, the American people really couldn’t care less about budget process, whether it’s regular order, bipartisanship, whether it’s filibuster, whether it’s reconciliation,” Bernstein said. “They need relief, and they need it now.”
Congress enacted $4 trillion in COVID-19 relief last year.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.