(CBS Detroit) — The Biden administration is laying the groundwork to pass a $1.9 trillion economic relief package. The American Rescue Plan, as it is known, would include a $1,400 stimulus check, additional unemployment insurance, a bigger child tax credit and a lot more if passed as is. It may not pass as is, however.
On Monday morning, 10 Republican Senators, led by Maine’s Susan Collins, laid out the details of a counteroffer. “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,” stated a letter from the group to the President. “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.”
The GOP version of the package, worth about $618 billion, includes $1,000 direct payments — rather than $1,400 — for individuals earning up to $40,000 per year and less for those earning between $40,000 and $50,000. Dependents would receive $500. The $300 weekly federal unemployment supplement would be extended through June, rather than September, and not increase to $400.
The counteroffer leaves out aid to state and local government, a sticking point that hindered previous stimulus talks. It also doesn’t include the $15 federal minimum wage.
The GOP group met with the President Monday afternoon for close to two hours, and seemed hopeful afterward. “It was a very good exchange of views. I wouldn’t say we came together on a package tonight. No one expected that in a two-hour meeting,” Collins told reporters. “But what we did agree to do is follow up and talk further.”
While changes are possible, it is still unclear what those changes would be and how they would affect the overall package. Direct payments, which have bipartisan support, will likely remain in some form. But the amount and the threshold to qualify could be adjusted. Other components of the president’s stimulus package could shift to other bills or fall by the wayside entirely. Some experts believe the final package will end up being in the neighborhood of $1 to 1.5 trillion.
Democrats control the presidency and both houses of Congress. As Bernie Sanders, an Independent from Vermont who tends to swing left, noted, they have the votes to proceed without Republicans. So why would the proposed stimulus package have to change at all?
The president entered office understanding the need to support an economy weighed down by the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to do it quickly. But as a Senator who spent decades collaborating across the aisle, he’s also willing to hear out Republicans. Some courtesy or compromise now could smooth the path for future administration priorities. This meeting may been the start of the process, even as Democrats move forward with their larger stimulus package.
“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,” according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki before the meeting. “What this meeting is not is a forum for the president to make or accept an offer.”
Biden also made his position clear via Twitter in the leadup to the meeting.
Hardworking Americans need help and they need it now. That’s why I’m calling on Congress to immediately pass my American Rescue Plan that will deliver direct relief, extend unemployment insurance, help folks put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads, and more.
— President Biden (@POTUS) February 1, 2021
Bipartisanship is a goal of the Biden administration, but not at the expense of pandemic assistance. The latest Republican proposal amounts to less than a third of what’s already on the table. “The risk is not that it is too big, this package,” Psaki noted. “The risk is that it is too small.
The economy shrank by 3.5 percent in 2020, the largest single-year decline since the end of World War II. Unemployment figures remain historically high, with 847,000 applying for first-time benefits in the most recent week for which data is available. The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program received another 426,000 applications that same week. As of early January, approximately 18 million people were receiving some sort of unemployment benefit.
An economic bounceback depends on the widespread distribution of a vaccine. But efforts to inoculate the public have proceeded in fits and starts. Widespread shortages have forced some cities to temporarily close vaccination centers and cancel appointments in recent weeks. A major winter storm blanketing the northeast early in the week is further hindering efforts. Meanwhile, domestic COVID cases have exceeded 26 million, with deaths topping 440,000.
Originally published Monday, February 1 @ 4:58 p.m. ET.