Republicans Press Biden to Scale Back $1.9 Trillion COVID-19 Relief Plan

Ten moderate Republican U.S. senators urged President Joe Biden on Sunday to significantly downsize his sweeping $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package to win bipartisan support as Democrats in Congress prepared to push ahead with his plan this week, Reuters reports.

Biden responded to the overture by inviting the Republican lawmakers to the White House this week for talks, spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, even as he continues to seek a comprehensive, large-scale measure.

“With the virus posing a grave threat to the country, and economic conditions grim for so many, the need for action is urgent, and the scale of what must be done is large,” Psaki said in a statement.

Biden spoke to Republican Senator Susan Collins on Sunday, Psaki said, asking her and the other Republicans to come to the White House for “a full exchange of views.”

Earlier, a top White House economic adviser signaled willingness to discuss the ideas raised by the Republicans, who have floated a $600 billion alternative.

But Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” program that the Democratic president was not willing to compromise on the need for a wide-ranging bill to address the public health crisis and economic fallout.

Passage of the new relief legislation would not only affect Americans and businesses reeling during a pandemic that has killed about 440,000 people in the United States but offer an early test of Biden’s promise to work to bridge the partisan divide in Washington.

It remained unclear whether the outreach by fewer than a dozen of the 50 Republicans in the 100-seat chamber would shift plans by congressional Democrats to take up legislation in the coming days. Biden and fellow Democrats are seeking to make use of their control of the House of Representatives and Senate to move quickly on the president’s top goal of addressing the pandemic.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has said his chamber would begin work on it as early as this week. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Congress would complete a preliminary step before the end of the week.

Biden, who took office on Jan. 20, has proposed $160 billion for vaccines and testing, $170 billion for schools and universities, and funds to give certain Americans a $1,400-per-person stimulus check, among other provisions.

Some Republicans have questioned the overall price tag, while others urged more targeted measures, particularly over the direct payments to individuals. Congress enacted $4 trillion in COVID-19 relief last year.

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