WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Tuesday panned a Republican alternative to his $1.9 trillion COVID rescue plan as insufficient. Unless something changes, Democrats will attempt to pass the president’s relief package, which includes $1,400 stimulus checks, on their own — raising some eyebrows about Biden’s calls for unity.
A Republican counter to Biden’s plan totaled $618 billion and included $1,000 stimulus checks targeted to Americans most in need.
Biden and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen joined Democratic senators for a private virtual meeting Tuesday urging big, fast action to stem the coronavirus pandemic crisis and its economic fallout. Biden hosted a similar call with House Democrats on Wednesday.
As the White House reaches for a bipartisan bill, Democrats marshaled their ever-slim Senate majority, voting 50-49, to start a multi-week process for approving Biden’s bill with or without GOP support.
While many were hopeful for a quick passage of a COVID relief package, it now looks like discussions will continue past February — meaning the earliest you could see a payment would likely be mid-March. The impeachment trial of former president Donald Trump is expected to slow the process even though Democrats have vowed to multitask.
The GOP’s $1,000 direct payments would go to fewer households, individuals earning up to $40,000 a year, or $80,000 for couples. That’s less than Biden’s proposal of $1,400 direct payments at higher income levels, up to $300,000 for some households.
The swift action from Democrats on Capitol Hill underscores the urgency of delivering Biden’s top legislative priority even as talks are progressing privately between Republicans and the White House, as well as with centrist Democrats, on potential changes to the package to win over broader bipartisan support.
The outcome will test the new president striving to unify the country. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell criticized the Democrats for pressing ahead on their own. He said he had spoken to Biden ahead of his meeting with the 10 GOP senators.
“They’ve chosen a totally partisan path,” McConnell said. “That’s unfortunate.”
The two sides are far apart, with the Republican group of 10 senators focused primarily on the health care crisis while the president is leading Democrats toward a more sweeping rescue plan to shore up households, local governments and a partly shuttered economy.
Wary Democrats pushed ahead with Tuesday’s vote, unwilling to take too much time in courting GOP support that may not materialize or may lead to too meager a package.
The procedural steps are groundwork for eventual approval under the budget reconciliation process that would allow the bill to pass with a 51-vote majority in the Senate, rather than the 60 votes typically needed.
The vote Tuesday opens 50 hours of debate on a budget resolution, with amendment votes expected later this week. The House is poised to launch a similar process.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.