Biden meets Republicans as Democrats push on for virus aid

Washington: President Joe Biden met with a group of Republican senators who have proposed a slimmed down USD 618 billion coronavirus aid package — a fraction of the USD 1.9 trillion he is seeking — as congressional Democrats vowed to push ahead with or without GOP support.

Biden greeted the lawmakers in the Oval Office, joking that he felt like he was ‘back in the Senate’ as they started the private session.

He and Vice President Kamala Harris were hearing the Republicans’ pitch for a smaller, more targeted COVID relief package that would do away with Democratic priorities but could win GOP support and appeal to his effort to unify the country.

The Republican group’s proposal taps into bipartisan urgency to shore up the nation’s vaccine distribution and vastly expand virus testing with USD 160 billion in aid, similar to what Biden has proposed.

But from there, the two plans drastically diverge. Less focussed on economic aid, the GOP’s USD 1,000 direct payments would go to fewer households than the USD 1,400 Biden has proposed, and the Republicans offer only a fraction of what he wants to re-open schools.

They also would give nothing to states, money that Democrats argue is just as important, with USD 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 USD 15 an hour.

Engaging the White House in high-profile bipartisan talks comes when House and Senate Democrats have announced they would push ahead, laying the groundwork for approving Biden’s package with a process that will not depend on Republican support for passage.