(CNN) — The president of the United States, Joe Biden, will meet this Monday with 10 Republican senators who have elaborated a minor counterproposal to his rescue plan for covid-19 of US $ 1.9 billion, in the most critical test so far of his promise. central to forging unity along bitter party lines.
But hopes for a rare bipartisan deal at the start of a new administration still seem dubious because the offer pushed by Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and her colleagues has a potentially fatal problem. It’s less than a third the size of the economic shock treatment the White House says the nation needs.
Biden’s original legislation proposes direct payments to most Americans and extends unemployment benefits through September as it seeks to plug a huge hole in the economy caused by the pandemic. It also increases the federal minimum wage to $ 15 an hour, fulfilling an important campaign promise. The plan provides hundreds of billions of dollars to expand COVID-19 testing, improve vaccine implementation, and get children back to school.
The president must now assess whether the new Republican offer is a bona fide initial offer in an effort to find common ground, or an exercise in deception that would cause lasting damage to the authority and political capital of a new president if he accepted it. .
And while Biden is eager to demonstrate his ability to make a divided Washington work, he knows he risks fracturing the support of Capitol Democrats if he significantly reduces his own plan to win Republican support in the Senate.
While welcoming the willingness of the 10 Republicans to compromise with the president, the White House also subtly underlines that a plan that falls far short of Biden’s ambitions will not be acceptable.
“As leading economists have said, the danger now is not doing too much: it is doing too little. Americans of both parties expect their leaders to comply, “White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement Sunday afternoon.
The senators said in a joint statement Sunday that they appreciated Biden’s quick response to their proposal and had accepted an invitation to meet with the president at the White House on Monday afternoon.
The intrigue over the covid aid negotiations adds another high-stakes confrontation to an already tense and combative moment on Capitol Hill as the political forces that will shape the first two years of Biden’s presidency emerge.
The fierce distrust between Democrats and Republicans in the House over personal safety in the wake of the January 6 insurrection incited by former President Donald Trump means that any hope of bipartisan negotiation on Covid relief is almost unthinkable.
Trump’s decision to assert control over the House bench, with his meeting last week with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and his call over the weekend with QAnon supporter and Rep. Georgia’s Marjorie Taylor Greene is sure to inject new poison into the political atmosphere.
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And the prospects for cross-party talks in the Senate are bleak as he prepares for Trump’s impeachment next week, in which it is already clear there are enough Republicans to prevent a two-thirds majority from trying to acquit him for the most scandalous attack by a president against the United States government in history.
Meanwhile, Biden will seek to maintain the momentum of his first weeks in office with a major foreign policy speech (rescheduled from Monday through the end of the week due to a snowstorm) and new initiatives to address the jobs crisis.
Democrats ready to take action despite Republican offer
Democratic leaders in Congress are ready this week to take a route that would trigger a controversial budget procedure known as reconciliation to pass the $ 1.9 trillion bailout bill without Republican votes – a move critics of Biden to argue that their offers of unity and negotiations are hollow.
Reconciliation is a measure that allows the rapid passage of laws related to budget, spending and debt. It’s controversial because it would allow Democrats to pass the package with a simple majority and circumvent Republican blocking tactics based on the 60-vote supermajority needed for most of the legislation to pass.
The new president’s dilemma is exactly the kind of scenario he said in the election campaign that his decades of experience in the Senate could navigate. The dire political circumstances in which his first major deal will take place explain why many key players in Washington, on both sides of the aisle, have long been skeptical of his bipartisan aspirations.
With Democrats pushing to use their slim majorities in the House and Senate to move quickly, Biden must also consider how to reject any Republican offer he deems insufficient to avoid crushing future cross-party coalitions.
The Republican plan includes pledges from 10 senators, enough for the Senate to pass under normal rules and for Biden to aim for a rare victory that would unite a Democratic president and a significant group of GOP members. Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, Collins and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski whom Biden hopes to convince for future bipartisan efforts are among the senators who have signed on to the counter offer.
However, any hope for a deal is likely based on whether the Republican plan is an initial offer in a negotiation that could increase his prize significantly or is a symbolic gesture that was never designed to be successful.
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If that’s the case, the Republican plan will seem like little more than an effort to ease pressure on the party to produce its own version of a credible bailout plan and a trap to separate the new president from his party.
Speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, Brian Deese, director of Biden’s National Economic Council, said the president’s plan fit squarely with the scale of the challenge facing the economy.
“We are in a unique crisis. And the elements of this plan were really designed and are designed to face that crisis head-on, ”Deese said, referring to the worst economic year since the aftermath of World War II, with one million new jobless claims for the first time and 30 millions of Americans with very little food.
In addition to that dire reality, Deese also warned that the rescue plan needed to be large enough to speed up the administration of vaccines to end the pandemic and help millions of children return to school.
“We are certainly open to input from anywhere we can find a constructive idea to make this package as effective as possible. But the President is unwavering when it comes to the speed at which we must act to address this crisis, “said Deese.
Later on Sunday, after Biden met with his advisers to discuss the aid package, a senior administration official said that Biden was open for some negotiations, but that the Republican $ 600 billion plan “is not going. to alleviate the itch.
Offering a carrot to the Republican group, the official told CNN’s Pamela Brown that the president is specifically willing to discuss suspending stimulus checks for families who earn more than $ 150,000 per year.
One complication is that the smaller Republican plan would likely force the White House to return to Capitol Hill for further extensions to unemployment benefits in a matter of months, at a time when an already treacherous political climate will likely have worsened and reached a agreement will be even more difficult to forge.
Initial indications were that Capitol Democrats have little appetite for the Republican counterproposal at a time when many warn that quick action is mandatory to prevent the economy from sliding into an even deeper hole.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told New York Daily News that the Republican offer was insufficient.
“They should negotiate with us, not make a take it or leave it offer,” he said.
And Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders said on ABC News “This Week” that he believed Democrats had enough votes to pass the bill using reconciliation.
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Signs that bipartisanship will be impossible
The gap between two conflicting views on the size of the crisis and the measures that could fix it was highlighted when CNN’s Dana Bash interviewed Ohio Senator Rob Portman, who is among the top 10 Republican senators who signed on to the alternative plan. little.
“It is extraordinary to me that you have a great speech… at the inauguration, talking about the need to heal and the need for us to work together as a country, Republicans and Democrats alike, and a promise to do more reaches out to Republicans. And then the next day a US $ 1.9 trillion COVID-19 package lands on our desks, when, just a month ago, we approved a US $ 900 billion COVID-19 package that was completely bipartisan, “said Portman. .
Portman also criticized the potential use of reconciliation, despite the fact that Republicans used it in the last administration to push through Trump’s massive tax cuts bill and in an effort to invalidate the Affordable Care Act. , saying the measure could tear the country apart.
Yet many Democrats are likely to estimate that most Americans will hardly feel alienated by obscure parliamentary procedure. For them, passing the bill in its entirety without Republican support is not only vital to propping up a deeply destabilized economy, it is a crucial moment that must be used to showcase Democratic power in Washington in the opening of the new presidency.
And there will be concerns that the scenario that played out during the efforts to pass the ACA during the Obama administration will be repeated. The former president spent time trying to accommodate some Republican goals, a process that delayed the bill for months, but then the Republican Party rejected it anyway.
And unless Biden can persuade Republicans to significantly increase his offer, his own need to demonstrate his authority and face a crisis that will define his presidency will likely weigh against his hopes of winning Republican votes that he does not strictly need.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism