WASHINGTON – U.S. President Joe Biden is willing, within limits, to consider changes to his proposed $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, a key economic adviser said Sunday, so that money is sent to Americans who need it the most.
Brian Deese, the director of Biden’s National Economic Council, told CNN that the proposal is “calibrated to the economic crisis that we face,” but that the Democratic president will look at a new proposal by 10 Republican senators for a more limited aid deal.
Deese said Biden is “uncompromising when it comes to the speed we need to act at to address this crisis,” including a reeling economy, a sluggish rollout of coronavirus vaccinations across the country and a steadily increasing U.S. coronavirus death toll. It now stands at more than 440,000, according to the Johns Hopkins University.
Deese said the focus should be on “what do we need now to get this economy back on track.”
Biden has expressed his openness to compromise with opposition Republicans but also said that Democrats will push through their version of the relief package on a party line vote in Congress if they need to rather than engage in protracted negotiations.
Amid the debate Sunday morning, Biden said on Twitter, “Millions of Americans, through no fault of their own, have lost the dignity and respect that comes with a job and a paycheck. My American Rescue Plan will extend unemployment insurance, ensuring folks can count on the checks continuing to be there in the middle of this crisis.”
Biden wants to increase the national government’s unemployment assistance from $300 to $400 a week on top of less generous state assistance and extend the extra stipends from March to September. The Republican plan seeks to maintain the $300 level for an unspecified period.
The Republican lawmakers, in a letter to Biden asking to meet with him to discuss their plan, placed no price tag on it. But Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana told the “Fox News Sunday” show it would cost about $600 billion, far short of what Biden is asking Congress to approve.
Biden wants to send $1,400 checks to millions of Americans, all but the biggest wage earners, on top of $600 checks approved in a $900 billion relief package signed by former President Donald Trump in late December.
The Republicans called for “more targeted assistance…for those families who need assistance the most, including their dependent children and adults.”
The lawmakers said they supported Biden’s call for $160 billion for vaccine distribution and more testing and tracing for the virus.
The Republicans said they support more aid for businesses and measures needed to reopen schools for in-person instruction. But they voiced no opinion on Biden’s call for increasing the federal minimum wage for low-income workers from $7.25 to $15 an hour, which most Republicans oppose, and many business owners say would force them to lay off workers rather than give them a bigger paycheck.
Deese declined to say what overall amount Biden would be willing to agree to.
But he said the president was willing to target the cash stipends so that money does not go to bigger wage earners,
“We want to get cash into the pockets of people who need it the most,” Deese said.
“The immediate focus,” he said, “is putting a floor under the economic crisis.”
Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, one of the 10 Republicans calling for a compromise with Biden, said, “Let’s focus on those who are struggling.”
He said it was “not in the interest of the Democratic Party to ram through” its version of the relief bill. “If you can’t find bipartisanship on COVID-19, I don’t know where you can,” Portman said. COVID-19 is the illness caused by the coronavirus.
— to www.voanews.com