Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said President Joe Biden told Senate Democrats at lunch Tuesday that he wants a “big, bold package” on Covid-19 relief and that he told Senate Republicans that their $600 billion proposal is “way too small.”
It was a point White House press secretary Jen Psaki reiterated during her briefing – there are certain “bottom lines” that Biden wants to be in the next round of Covid-19 relief, including direct payments reaching more Americans than what the Republican proposal would include.
“His view is that at this point in our country, when 1-in-7 American families don’t have enough food to eat, we need to make sure people get the relief they need and are not left behind,” Psaki said.
She again said the administration views the risk “is not going too big, it is going too small.”
Schumer also warned fellow lawmakers not to repeat “the mistake of 2009” and risk undershooting the stimulus package on a call Tuesday with his caucus, Biden and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, an aide to a Democratic senator told CNN.
The discussions come as Biden lobbies to pass a $1.9 trillion relief package – one currently too large to garner Republican support – and Democrats are laying track to use a complicated Senate procedure that will allow them to pass it along party lines. Schumer said that despite Biden’s conversations with Republicans, the President “is totally on board with using reconciliation. I’ve been talking to him every day. Our staffs have been talking multiple times a day. And I believe that we will pass the resolution this afternoon.”
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Psaki added that there are opportunities for staff-level negotiations on small business relief and some other “technical follow up opportunities,” but she said that those discussions focus on how to get that relief efficiently, not reducing the cost.
Schumer said that Biden told Republicans “he’s willing to make some modifications, but he’s very strong that the full American Rescue Plan get us through this crisis. Secretary Yellen said the Republican $600 billion wasn’t close to enough.”
Earlier Tuesday, a Republican senator told CNN’s Manu Raju that Biden was fully engaged in the policy discussion during the White House meeting but didn’t commit to either using reconciliation or not using that process to advance a Covid-19 relief package without GOP votes.
Asked if Biden indicated a willingness to drop the $1.9 trillion price tag, the senator told CNN: “I think he himself wants to come down and wants to work with us. I don’t know about his team.”
Earlier in the briefing, Psaki noted that there are opportunities through the legislative process for Republican ideas to get into the final Covid-19 relief bill
“At several points in this process as we look to the weeks ahead, Republicans can engage and see their ideas adopted,” she said.
On Schumer’s call with his caucus, the aide said, he jumped in as Yellen was saying to set aside a new Congressional Budget Office study that predicted annual growth jumping even without Biden’s stimulus package.
“We care about not just output, but jobs and getting back to work,” Yellen said, according to notes the aide kept from the meeting. “That’s not strong enough to prevent scarring. Biden’s plan will create enough jobs to get back faster. We’re in a deep ditch and we need to get out quickly, not wait years and years.”
At that point, Schumer interjected: “Which is the mistake we made in 2009,” a reference to the anemic growth that followed that year’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act tackling the financial crisis.
Schumer also brought up the Georgia US Senate runoffs to underscore his support for direct payments and said the election results there “showed us a new path” and suggested they be taken to heart as this process plays out.
He suggested that some voters who had sat out the general election turned out for the January 5 runoffs because of the clear promise – from the Senate candidates and Biden – of direct payments.
This story has been updated with further developments Tuesday.