Watch CBS News

GOP senators balk at $1.9 trillion price tag for Biden's COVID-19 bill

Biden unveils coronavirus response strategy
Biden unveils national coronavirus response strategy as cases surge across the country 09:23

Washington — Some Republican senators have expressed concerns about the $1.9 trillion price tag on President Biden's proposal for a new coronavirus relief bill, as congressional Democrats consider pursuing a procedure to pass the legislation without any Republican votes.

Congress passed a $900 billion relief bill late last month, but Mr. Biden and congressional Democrats have argued more action is necessary to stabilize the economy. Republicans have noted that not all of the funds provided by that act have been distributed.

"The administration sent up a proposal of $1.9 trillion, weeks after we just passed $900 billion that hasn't been accounted for yet," GOP Senator Rob Portman told reporters on Tuesday. He argued that some provisions in Mr. Biden's bill, such as raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour and providing funds for cybersecurity, were unrelated to the pandemic.

Senate To Begin Trump Trial Then Pause For Biden Confirmations
Senator Rob Portman, a Republican from Ohio, speaks to members of the media while walking through the Senate Subway at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, January 26, 2021. Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Democrats have the narrowest possible majority in the House with 50 seats, and Vice President Kamala Harris casting any tie-breaking vote. Most legislation requires 60 votes in order end debate and set up a full vote on the Senate floor. This means that Democrats will need to garner support from 10 Republicans, unless they choose to use a method of passing legislation known as budget reconciliation, which only requires a simple majority vote.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Tuesday that he told fellow Democrats they should be prepared to vote on a budget resolution as early as next week, which would be the first step in beginning the budget reconciliation process.

"Our caucus is united in that we need big bold change," Schumer told reporters. However, he said "we're always hopeful that [Republicans will] see the light," and noted that Republicans could vote in favor of the proposal even if they do go forward with budget reconciliation.

Senator Bernie Sanders, the chair of the Senate Budget Committee, said that Democrats were already working on writing legislation for budget reconciliation.

"We're working on it right now," Sanders said. "I think there is a consensus. If Republicans are not prepared to come on board, that's fine. We're not going to wait. We're going forward soon and aggressively."

Republican Senator Todd Young told reporters Monday he does not think there will be a bipartisan COVID deal unless "there is significant movement by the administration." Mr. Biden has promised to work with Republicans, and Portman said on Tuesday that it would be a "big mistake" for Democrats to use budget reconciliation rather than attempt to negotiate with Republicans to craft bipartisan legislation. 

"I think really it's going to be the White House and the Democrats' call as to whether they want to work with a bipartisan team to improve the legislation or whether they want to push through a reconciliation, a bill which came with only one party participating," Republican Senator Mitt Romney told reporters on Tuesday.

A bipartisan group of 16 senators spoke with Biden administration officials on Sunday to discuss coronavirus legislation. The one hour and 15 minute call was set up by moderate Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

Although some participants called the meeting "productive" and a good first step, Republican Senator Susan Collins, who attended the meeting, called it "premature" to be discussing legislative action of this size and scope. She said she would be suggesting a more "targeted" package, especially focusing on vaccine distribution.

Collins said she received more information about the proposal from the White House on Monday, but still needed further details.

"The administration is sending and has sent us some data to give us further details on the specifics of its package. We just got that and are starting to go through it. So, that's a good step, but there's still not been an answer to the question of the money that still is yet to be allocated," Collins told reporters on Tuesday.

Democrats still haven't ruled out using budget reconciliation to pass coronavirus relief. Lawmakers "have to get it done," Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar said on Tuesday.

"I will not let America's unemployed folks at a time when the numbers are spiking be pushed off an economic cliff," Democratic Senator Ron Wyden told reporters on Monday.

Jack Turman contributed reporting.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.