Ten Republicans in the United States Senate have proposed a counter-proposal to President Joe Biden’s $ 1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill, saying a scaled-down version of the aid package would gain bipartisan support in Congress.
In a letter to Biden on Sunday, lawmakers said their version of the bill would include $ 160 billion for COVID-19 vaccines, testing, treatment and personal protective equipment, and call for more targeted relief than Biden’s plan to issue $ 1,400 stimulus checks to most Americans.
The signatories of the letter include Republican Senators Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Mitt Romney – some of Biden’s most likely cooperators.
“In the spirit of bipartisanship and unity, we have developed a COVID-19 relief framework that builds on previous COVID assistance laws, which have all passed with bipartisan support,” the letter said, without providing a total cost for their proposal.
They requested to meet with Biden in the next few days, adding, “Our proposal reflects many of your stated priorities, and with your support, we believe this plan could be approved quickly by Congress with bipartisan support.”
I joined a group of 10 Republican Senators in writing to President Biden today to propose an alternative Covid-19 relief bill capable of garnering bipartisan support and to request a meeting to discuss it in detail.https://t.co/aenxAwE65K pic.twitter.com/dHIp4YU4yu
– Senator Susan Collins (@SenatorCollins) January 31, 2021
One of the signatories, Senator Bill Cassidy, said their package would cost around $ 600 billion, The Associated Press reported.
Biden, who served in the Senate for 36 years and was long seen as a bipartisan negotiator, has expressed the growing urgency to pass the coronavirus bill.
He campaigned on promises of a more robust response to the pandemic than former President Donald Trump and has taken several executive steps since being sworn in on Jan.20 in an attempt to bring the pandemic under control.
The United States has so far reported more than 26 million cases of COVID-19 and more than 440,000 coronavirus-related deaths, according to a count from Johns Hopkins University.
Biden told reporters on Friday he supported “the transfer of COVID relief with Republicans backing if we can get it.”
“But COVID relief has to pass. There are no ifs, ands or buts, ”he says.
His comments came after he was asked whether he supports Democrats, who have a slim majority in the Senate, in passing the bill through budget reconciliation, a complex process that can speed up passage of a bill with a majority vote only.
Typically, legislation requires 60 votes to pass. Democrats currently control 50 seats in the 100-member Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as the deciding vote.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has indicated Democrats are preparing to begin the truncated process.
As Republicans backed down from the price tag of Biden’s coronavirus aid package, the president is also said to have bolstered support from more centrist Democrats.
These include Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who have expressed concerns about the package, three people familiar with the calls told the Associated Press news agency.
U.S. lawmakers have already approved around $ 4 trillion in aid since the start of the pandemic, including a $ 900 billion relief package in December.
Still, Biden said the $ 1.9 trillion package would save money across the board compared to the damage insufficient aid would do to the U.S. economy in the future. The money will be used, among other things, for an aggressive vaccination campaign, tests and assistance to individuals.
But critics, including some of Biden’s allies, said the bill did not adequately spell out what the increased funding for vaccines and testing would entail, and how much it would shorten the timeline for the epidemic in the United States.
Others, including Murkowski, said Biden should drop a provision in the law that would raise the federal minimum wage to $ 15 an hour. The increase has long been a goal of progressives, with Biden embracing it during his campaign.
Critics say minimum wage should be separated from coronavirus relief.
Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council, told NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday that Biden was “open to ideas, wherever they may come” about the relief package.
“What he is adamant about is the need to move quickly towards a comprehensive approach here,” Deese said, as reported by Reuters news agency. “A piecemeal approach… is not the recipe for success.”