Schumer moves ahead on Biden virus aid, GOP talks continue

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY; Photo Date: 1/21/2020

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced that senators will vote Tuesday on a first step toward approving President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 recovery package.

Posted: Feb 2, 2021 12:08 PM
Updated: Feb 3, 2021 9:35 AM

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced that senators will vote Tuesday on a first step toward eventually approving President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus recovery package on a fast-track with or without Republican support.

Schumer said Congress must take bold action toward "America's long-awaited come back." The procedural vote launches a lengthy budget procedure that would allow Democrats who have a slim majority to pass Biden's proposal on their own if Republicans object.

The swift action on next steps comes after Biden told Republican senators during a two-hour meeting he's unwilling to settle on an insufficient coronavirus aid package after they pitched their slimmed down $618 billion proposal that's a fraction of the $1.9 trillion the president is seeking.

No compromise was reached in the lengthy session Monday night, Biden's first with lawmakers at the White House. The president made it clear that he won't delay aid in hopes of winning GOP support.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that while there were areas of agreement, "the president also reiterated his view that Congress must respond boldly and urgently, and noted many areas which the Republican senators’ proposal does not address.”

She said, “He will not slow down work on this urgent crisis response, and will not settle for a package that fails to meet the moment.”

White House officials have previously cited the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as evidence of broad support for their plan, but the nation's most prominent business group issued a letter Tuesday that urged a bipartisan compromise.

“What we’ve seen based on what the president has put forward and what 10 Senate Republicans have put forward, there ought to be common ground for a bipartisan proposal that can become law,” said Neil Bradley, executive vice president and chief policy officer, said in an interview.

The Chamber's letter said a move by congressional Democrats to use the budget process to pass an aid package along party lines could be damaging other parts of the Biden agenda such as infrastructure, climate change and overhauling immigration.

The two sides are far apart, with the Republican group of 10 senators focused primarily on the health care crisis and smaller $1,000 direct aid to Americans, and Biden leading Democrats toward a more sweeping rescue package to shore up households, local governments and a partly shuttered economy.

The goal is to have COVID-19 relief approved by March, when extra unemployment assistance and other pandemic aid expires, testing the ability of the new administration and Congress to deliver, with political risks for all sides from failure.

Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine called the meeting a “frank and very useful” conversation, noting that the president also filled in some details on his proposal.

“All of us are concerned about struggling families, teetering small businesses and an overwhelmed health care system,” said Collins, flanked by other senators outside the White House.

Republicans are tapping into bipartisan urgency to improve the nation's vaccine distribution and vastly expand virus testing with $160 billion in aid. That is similar to what Biden has proposed. But from there, the two plans drastically diverge.

The GOP's $1,000 direct payments would go to fewer households than the $1,400 Biden has proposed, and the Republicans offer only a fraction of what he wants to reopen schools.

They also would give nothing to states, money that Democrats argue is just as important, with $350 billion in Biden's plan to keep police, fire and other workers on the job. Gone are Democratic priorities such as a gradual lifting of the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Wary Democrats pushed ahead at the Capitol, unwilling to take too much time in courting GOP support that may not materialize or in delivering too meager a package that they believe doesn't address the scope of the nation's health crisis and economic problems.

House and Senate Democrats released a separate budget resolution Monday a step toward approving Biden’s package with a reconciliation process that wouldn't depend on Republican support for passage.

The accelerating talks came as the Congressional Budget Office delivered mixed economic forecasts Monday with robust growth expected at a 4.5% annual rate but employment rates not to return to pre-pandemic levels for several years.

The overture from the coalition of 10 GOP senators, mostly centrists, was an attempt to show that at least some in the Republican ranks want to work with Biden’s new administration.

Asked if Biden had shown a willingness to reduce his $1.9 trillion top line, Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, said, “He didn’t say that, nor did we say we’re willing to come up” from the GOP plan. He said it's “too early” to say if a deal can be reached.

An invitation to the GOP senators to meet with Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris came hours after the lawmakers sent Biden a letter on Sunday urging him to negotiate rather than try to ram through his relief package solely on Democratic votes.

The cornerstone of the GOP plan is $160 billion for the health care response — vaccine distribution, a “massive expansion” of testing, protective gear and funds for rural hospitals, according to a draft. It also includes $20 billion to reopen schools compared to $170 billion in Biden's plan. The Republicans offer $40 billion for Paycheck Protection Program business aid.

Under the GOP proposal, $1,000 direct payments would go to individuals earning up to $40,000 a year, or $80,000 for couples. The proposal would begin to phase out the benefit after that, with no payments for individuals earning more than $50,000, or $100,000 for couples. That’s less than Biden’s proposal of $1,400 direct payments at higher incomes levels, up to $300,000 for some households.

The meeting, though private, was Biden's most public involvement in the negotiations.

Winning the support of 10 Republicans would be significant, potentially giving Biden the votes needed in the 50-50 Senate where Harris is the tie-breaker. Or he can push it through the budget reconciliation process, which would allow the bill to pass with a 51-vote majority in the Senate, rather than the 60 votes typically needed to advance legislation.

The White House remains committed to exploring avenues for bipartisanship even as it prepares for Democrats to move alone on a COVID-19 relief bill, according to a senior administration official granted anonymity to discuss the private thinking.

Biden has leaned on his resume of decades in the Senate and as vice president to bring the parties together, but less than two weeks into his presidency he has shown frustration with the pace of negotiations as applications for jobless benefits remain stubbornly high and the COVID-19 death toll nears 450,000 Americans.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 500709

Reported Deaths: 9977
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34312538
DeSoto32080403
Hinds31924627
Jackson24482379
Rankin21983390
Lee15530235
Madison14574280
Jones13838242
Forrest13447251
Lauderdale11985316
Lowndes11030188
Lamar10508135
Pearl River9503237
Lafayette8547139
Hancock7728126
Washington7422157
Oktibbeha7142131
Monroe6769176
Warren6682176
Pontotoc6659102
Neshoba6635206
Panola6520131
Marshall6462134
Bolivar6313148
Union602494
Pike5817152
Alcorn5667101
Lincoln5433135
George496779
Scott472698
Tippah469081
Prentiss466881
Leflore4657144
Itawamba4633105
Adams4586119
Tate4584110
Copiah448592
Simpson4445116
Yazoo443987
Wayne439772
Covington428794
Sunflower4237105
Marion4225108
Coahoma4159104
Leake408288
Newton381679
Grenada3706108
Stone359764
Tishomingo359692
Attala331489
Jasper329965
Winston314291
Clay307976
Chickasaw299667
Clarke292494
Calhoun279346
Holmes267887
Smith263850
Yalobusha233747
Tallahatchie227151
Greene219048
Walthall218763
Lawrence212440
Perry205356
Amite205155
Webster202746
Noxubee186640
Montgomery179656
Jefferson Davis171542
Carroll168838
Tunica159439
Benton148738
Kemper141941
Choctaw133426
Claiborne132437
Humphreys129238
Franklin120028
Quitman106428
Wilkinson105139
Jefferson94534
Sharkey64020
Issaquena1937
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 817054

Reported Deaths: 15320
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1145501922
Mobile724601333
Madison52172694
Shelby37533348
Baldwin37192547
Tuscaloosa35044606
Montgomery34067734
Lee23195245
Calhoun22205476
Morgan20754376
Etowah19811497
Marshall18317302
Houston17345411
St. Clair15983339
Cullman15383292
Limestone15298198
Elmore15161284
Lauderdale14225294
Talladega13802276
DeKalb12622260
Walker11162369
Blount10162175
Autauga9954146
Jackson9844182
Coffee9195191
Dale8880185
Colbert8826201
Tallapoosa7071198
Escambia6764130
Covington6699183
Chilton6627161
Russell627959
Franklin5955105
Chambers5567142
Marion4982126
Dallas4936200
Clarke474583
Pike4722105
Geneva4566126
Winston4502103
Lawrence4296117
Bibb424086
Barbour356676
Marengo337789
Monroe331463
Randolph328763
Butler325696
Pickens315682
Henry311965
Hale311088
Cherokee301760
Fayette291879
Washington251351
Cleburne247360
Crenshaw244375
Clay241768
Macon232363
Lamar222047
Conecuh185853
Coosa179739
Lowndes174564
Wilcox167939
Bullock151644
Perry138340
Sumter132738
Greene126644
Choctaw88127
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