Nearly two weeks after arriving in the White House, US President Joe Biden faces a dilemma: pass a $ 1.9 trillion economic aid package enforcing the majority of Democrats in Congress or seek an alliance with the Republicans , in keeping with their promise to unite the country.
Biden hasn’t made a decision yet, but any step he takes on this issue could define his relationship with Congress for the next four years.
The first thing Biden did was meet at the White House on Monday with 10 moderate senators from the Republican Party who are calling for a 618 billion dollar aid package to be approved to revive the battered US economy and deal with the pandemic.
That figure is nearly a third of the $ 1.9 trillion demanded by Biden and the Democrats in Congress.
So far, the White House has not shown any signs of being willing to cut the number of its aid plan and, in fact, today its spokesperson, Jen Psaki, explained that Biden is concerned that the stimulus package is too small and not too big, as Republicans claim.
The meeting was behind closed doors, but for 40 seconds the press was able to access the Oval Office. There, Biden thanked the senators for coming to the White House and said he was “anxious” to talk to them about the stimulus package. “I feel like I’m back in the Senate, which is what I’ve liked the most of everything I’ve done,” joked Biden, who for 36 years held one of the Delaware seats.
Republicans who attended the meeting included Senators from the center who have occasionally broken with party discipline , such as Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah, the latter a former Republican presidential candidate in 2012 and very critical of former president Donald Trump (2009-2017).
Speaking to the press after the meeting, which lasted two hours, Collins said it was “productive”, “cordial”, “frank” and “helpful”. “I think it was an excellent meeting and we appreciate that his first official meeting in the Oval Office was with us,” said Collins, who assured that the negotiations will continue.
During the meeting, the group of senators presented their plan to Biden, which focuses on the effects of the pandemic on health, rather than the economy; Thus, the item that receives the most funds (160,000 million dollars) is the one destined to increase the number of tests available and accelerate the vaccination campaign.
The proposal sets the direct aid that Americans would receive at a one-time payment of $ 1,000 , instead of the 1,400 that the Democrats want.
In addition, it eliminates two of the priorities included in the Democratic proposal: help for states and municipalities that have lost income by having collected less taxes due to the decline in economic activity and measures to gradually increase the federal minimum wage to $ 15 an hour.
The Republican Party believes that including these measures would further indebt the United States and consider that the Democratic proposals are too expensive, since Congress has previously approved two rescue packages: one of 2.2 trillion dollars last March, and another of $ 900 billion in December.
In theory, they could do it using Senate rules to pass the budget; but if an agreement was reached with the 10 Republican senators, Biden’s party would not have to resort to that subterfuge and could follow traditional procedures.
Each party controls 50 seats in the Senate, but the Democrats have a majority because, as Vice President, Kamala Harris presides over the Upper House and is the tiebreaker vote for the Democrats.
However, the position of the Democrats in the Senate is precarious and they will have to juggle to keep together senators of their caucus with very different ideologies, from the progressive Bernie Sanders to the moderate Joe Manchin, who has not yet expressed support for the Biden’s proposal.
While negotiations were taking place, this Monday, the Congressional Budget Office published a report with a gray image: the economy is expected to return to pre-pandemic levels by mid-year, but it will take years for them to recover. the jobs lost in this crisis.