The 10 Senate Republicans who met with President Joe Biden this week on his coronavirus relief package sent a detailed letter to the White House laying out a series of concerns about the proposal, according to a letter obtained by CNN.
While both sides praised the nearly two-hour meeting in the Oval Office this week, the deep divergence between Biden’s $1.9 trillion the $618 billion GOP proposal persists. Still the Republican group is using the letter to push for talks to continue.
“We remain committed to working in a bipartisan fashion and hope that you will take into account our views as the legislative process moves forward,” the group, led by Maine Sen. Susan Collins, said in the letter sent Thursday to Biden.
The letter underscores just how far apart the White House and the Senate GOP group remain on the policy and marks the first time Republicans have contacted the White House since the meeting. The White House, at Biden’s request, sent memos to the group on Tuesday. Those memos, obtained by CNN, detail a defense of Biden’s proposal on areas like school funding and direct payments
But where the White House laid out details about the importance and need for the scale and longer-term investments in their proposal, the Republican response goes into detail about the amount of funds from past relief bill that remain unspent and pressed for more detail on the justification on several specific elements of the overall plan.
It is, to a degree, an encapsulation of the difference in approaches taken by the two sides, with Biden and his team repeatedly stressing the need to “act big” and saying the biggest risk is undershooting on the overall spending, not overshooting. The Republican group makes clear in the letter their focus is on a targeted approach.
Biden has said he is willing to go forward without the support of Republicans, using a Senate budget procedure that would allow Democrats to pass the measure along partisan lines. But he also has said he is willing to make certain concessions if it will earn bipartisan support.
Still, the White House and congressional Democrats have made clear they think time is of the essence on the proposal. The key Democratic-led committees in both chambers have started crafting what is designed to be the final proposal.
House Democratic leaders, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Whip Jim Clyburn and committee chairs are meeting at the White House with Biden Friday, a source familiar with the plans told CNN.
“We have been very clear about our own view of the urgency here,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Thursday. “And we’re hopeful and confident Congress shares our view of that.”
The 10 Senate Republicans, in the letter to Biden, pushed back on the White House memos – and in several areas pressed the administration to justify the scale of their proposal based on the amount of unspent aid currently remaining. The issue is particularly acute on the funding for K-12 schools, where the White House provided a detailed line-item justification for the $130 billion in its proposal.
The GOP group, which proposed $20 billion for schools, said it has “significant questions” about the “size and scope” of what the White House proposal contains due to the amount of money from past packages that remains unspent. As of last month, only $4.4 billion of the $68 billion appropriated for K-12 schools had been spent. The funds have been obligated and White House officials say it is expected to be spent in the coming weeks.
But the GOP also directly questions the merits of data used in the White House memos to justify the proposal.
The letter also lays out objections to the income threshold cutoffs for the stimulus checks in the White House proposal, but notes that they are “encouraged” by reports that Democrats are considering tightening the qualification requirements.
One area where the Republicans pressed the White House to add funds was for a fund with an explicit set-aside for rural hospitals – a key priority for Collins, the Maine Republican. The GOP proposal calls for $35 billion for the Provider Relief Fund, which includes that set-aside.
“We respectfully urge your support for replenishing this fund to help providers, including rural hospitals, long-term care facilities, and community health centers, to continue to care for their patients and play a central role in our vaccination and testing strategy,” the Republicans wrote.
Collins was joined in the letter by Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Mitt Romney of Utah, Rob Portman of Ohio, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Todd Young of Indiana, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Mike Rounds of South Dakota and Thom Tillis of North Carolina.
Annie Grayer contributed to this report.