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Biden to meet with 10 GOP senators on COVID-19 relief proposal

Senate could pass COVID bill without GOP help
Biden to meet with Republicans as Senate Democrats prepare to pass COVID bill without GOP support 03:31

Washington — A group of 10 Republican senators is set to meet with President Biden on Monday to propose an alternative COVID-19 relief package, as the White House and congressional Democrats prepare to move forward with Mr. Biden's $1.9 trillion plan with or without GOP support. 

The GOP group, led by Senator Susan Collins, wrote to Mr. Biden on Sunday requesting a meeting, and the White House quickly extended an invitation. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the president is "happy to have a conversation with them."

"The president has been clear, since long before he came into office, that he is open to engaging with both Democrats and Republicans in Congress about their ideas, and this is an example of doing exactly that," Psaki said at a briefing Monday. "What this meeting is not is a forum for the president to make or accept an offer." 

Psaki added that the president believes that "the risk is not that it is too big, this package — the risk is that it is too small," a view that "he will certainly express today."

The offer by Republican senators totals roughly $618 billion, or less than a third of the size of the package Mr. Biden is seeking, according to a summary of the proposal released Monday. The plan calls for $160 billion dollars for vaccine development and distribution and testing and tracing, $132 billion for expanded unemployment benefits and $220 billion for a new round of direct payments.

Under the proposal, individuals making $40,000 or less would receive stimulus checks of $1,000, and couples making $80,000 or less jointly would receive $2,000, with the amount reduced for incomes up to $50,000 and $100,000, respectively. An additional $500 would be paid for each dependent child or adult, as well. Individuals making over $50,000 and couples making more than $100,000 would not be eligible for payments.

The extended unemployment benefits total $300 per week on top of state benefits, and would last through June. Mr. Biden has proposed extending those benefits at $400 per week through September.

"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 in its letter to Mr. Biden. "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 said in an interview with CNN on Sunday that direct payments would be more targeted in their proposal.

The senators involved in the effort include Collins, Portman, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, 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. 

Eight of the senators 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 says Biden willing to meet with GOP senators over COVID bill 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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