Ten Republican senators on Sunday proposed their own framework for a COVID-19 relief package, calling on President Joe Biden to work alongside them in drafting the legislation.
The lawmakers, including Senators Susan Collins (R., Maine), Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska), Mitt Romney (R., Utah) and Rob Portman (R., Ohio), sent a letter to Biden saying they “welcome the opportunity to work with (him) in a bipartisan manner to combat the Covid-19 virus and provide continued support to families struggling during the pandemic.”
“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,” they wrote.
The framework aims to create a smaller, more targeted relief bill in comparison to Biden’s sweeping $1.9 trillion proposal.
The new proposal includes $160 billion for vaccine development and distribution, testing and tracing, and treatment and supplies, including the production and deployment of personal protective equipment. It includes an additional $4 billion to support behavioral health and substance abuse services and another round of direct payments for “families who need assistance the most.”
The senators also propose extending enhanced federal unemployment benefits at the current level.
Portman on Sunday said while the proposal is just a framework, any final plan will be “less than $1.9 [trillion] because much of what the administration has laid out has nothing to do with COVID-19.”
During an appearance on CNN’s State of the Union, Portman said the GOP senators believe the $1,400 direct payments should be “much more targeted,” with a $50,000 income cap for individuals and a $100,000 cap for a family.
Both of the earlier stimulus checks were phased out for individuals earning above $75,000 or couples earning above $150,000. Individuals earning above $99,000, and joint filers with no children at $198,000 were not eligible for checks.
“Many of these people have had no impact from COVID. In fact, some of these people have done quite well. Others are struggling. Let’s focus on those who are struggling,” he said, adding that economic analyses have shown that those earning over $75,000 per year are tending to save, not spend, the money.
“In other words, it’s not being used for its intended purpose so let’s target it we really want to help those who need it,” he said.
Biden has signaled he’s open to negotiating the exact cut-off, saying last week: “There’s legitimate reason for people to say, ‘Do you have the lines drawn the exact right way? Should it go to anybody making over X number of dollars or Y? I’m open to negotiate those things.”
Portman also criticized Biden’s proposal that includes extending unemployment insurance until September.
“We don’t know what the economy is going to look like between now and September and most economists believe there will be significant growth — over 4 percent growth — so, let’s target that a little bit more so that it ties somewhat to the economic conditions,” he said.
The proposal for bipartisan compromise comes as Biden has suggested he is open to passing large portions of his relief bill through budget reconciliation, allowing Democrats to pass the bill as part of taxing and spending policies with a simple majority, avoiding a Republican filibuster.
Biden has said he is willing to consider a smaller relief bill, but White House officials have said they are not interested in splitting up the legislation by receiving a bipartisan vote on some parts and passing a separate package along party lines using reconciliation.
Portman said he believes it is “not in the interest of the Democratic party” to use reconciliation, because “it will set President Biden down a path of partisanship that will poison the well for other bipartisanship we’ll need on so many issues.”
The letter, also signed by Senators Bill Cassidy (R., La.), Shelley Moore Capito (R., W. Va.), Todd Young (R., Ind.), Jerry Moran (R., Kansas), Mike Rounds (R., S.D.) and Thom Tillis (R., N.C.), requests a meeting with Biden 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.”
“We recognize your calls for unity and want to work in good faith with your Administration to meet the health, economic, and societal challenges of the Covid crisis,” the group wrote.
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