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‘Bipartisanship and unity’: N.C. Sen. Tillis among 10 GOP Senators ready to meet with Biden over COVID-19 relief

Updated: Jan. 31, 2021 at 3:56 PM EST
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(WBTV/AP) - North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis was among 10 Republican lawmakers who requested a meeting with President Biden to work on an agreement on a COVID-19 relief package.

Tillis, and nine other Republican Senators, wrote a letter to Biden to propose an alternative coronavirus relief proposal.

“President Biden took office calling for unity and bipartisanship, and I have made it clear that I am willing to work towards finding common ground on issues facing our country on behalf of the American people,” Senator Tillis said. “As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, members on both sides of the aisle recognize additional targeted relief is needed to get families and businesses back on their feet. While relief from the recent $900 billion package continues to be distributed, this outline is a commonsense next step, and I hope President Biden and Congressional Democrats will review this proposal and work with us instead of ramming through a partisan relief package without Republican support.”

The letter was also signed by Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Mitt Romney (R-UT), Rob Portman (R-OH), Todd Young (R-IN), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Mike Rounds (R-SD).

In challenging Biden to fulfill his pledge of unity, the group said in a letter that their counterproposal will include $160 billion for vaccines, testing, treatment and personal protective equipment and will call for more targeted relief than Biden’s plan to issue $1,400 stimulus checks for most Americans.

Here is the full letter to President Biden:

Dear Mr. President:

As you proclaimed in your Inaugural Address, overcoming the challenges facing our nation “requires the most elusive of things in a democracy: Unity.” Heeding that important call, we welcome the opportunity to work with you in a bipartisan manner to combat the COVID-19 virus and provide continued support to families struggling during the pandemic.

In the spirit of bipartisanship and unity, we have developed a COVID-19 relief framework that builds on prior COVID assistance laws, all of which passed with bipartisan support. Our proposal reflects many of your stated priorities, and with your support, we believe that this plan could be approved quickly by Congress with bipartisan support. We request the opportunity to meet with you to discuss our proposal in greater detail and how we can work together to meet the needs of the American people during this persistent pandemic.

Addressing this public health crisis has required robust and rapid support for vaccine development and distribution, testing and tracing, treatment and supplies, including the production and deployment of personal protective equipment. We agree with you that continuing to build our capacity in these areas is crucial to overcoming the pandemic. Like your plan, our proposal includes a total of $160 billion to enhance our capabilities in these areas as well as to support our health care providers, who are on the front lines of the pandemic. Our plan mirrors your request for $4 billion to bolster our behavioral health and substance abuse services.

Our proposal also includes economic relief for those Americans with the greatest need, providing more targeted assistance than in the Administration’s plan. We propose an additional round of economic impact payments for those families who need assistance the most, including their dependent children and adults. Our plan also includes extending enhanced federal unemployment benefits at the current level and fully funding your request for nutrition assistance to help struggling families.

We share your goal of providing additional assistance for our small businesses. Included in our plan are additional resources to help our small businesses and their employees through the successful Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program.

Getting our children back to school and making sure that schools are able to stay open safely are priorities that we strongly support. Our plan includes resources for these purposes as well as for child care, which is a critical component to getting Americans back to work.

Finally, we note that billions of dollars remain unspent from the previous COVID relief packages. Just last month, Congress provided $900 billion in additional resources, and communities are only now receiving much of that assistance. Some of the spending appropriated through the CARES Act, passed last March, also has yet to be exhausted. The proposal we have outlined is mindful of these past efforts, while also acknowledging the priorities that need additional support right now.

In 2020, Members of the House and Senate and the previous Administration came together on a bipartisan basis five times to direct the resources of the federal government toward combatting the urgent COVID-19 pandemic. Each of these laws received the support of members from both political parties. With your support, we believe Congress can once again craft a relief package that will provide meaningful, effective assistance to the American people and set us on a path to recovery.

We recognize your calls for unity and want to work in good faith with your Administration to meet the health, economic, and societal challenges of the COVID crisis.

Thank you for your consideration of this request.

Winning the support of 10 Republicans would be significant for Biden in the 50-50 Senate where Vice President Kamala Harris is the tie-breaker. If all Democrats were to back an eventual compromise bill, the legislation would reach the 60-vote threshold necessary to overcome potential blocking efforts and pass under regular Senate procedures.

“In the spirit of bipartisanship and unity, we have developed a COVID-19 relief framework that builds on prior COVID assistance laws, all of which passed with bipartisan support,” the Republican senators wrote. “Our proposal reflects many of your stated priorities, and with your support, we believe that this plan could be approved quickly by Congress with bipartisan support.”

The plea for Biden to give bipartisan negotiations more time comes as the president has shown signs of impatience as the more liberal wing of his party considers passing the relief package through a process known as budget reconciliation. That would allow the bill to advance with only the backing of his Democratic majority.

The Republicans did not provide many details of their proposal. One of the signatories, Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy, said that it would cost about $600 billion.

“If you can’t find bipartisan compromise on COVID-19, I don’t know where you can find it,” said Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, who also signed the letter.

Brian Deese, the top White House economic adviser who is leading the administration’s outreach to Congress, said administration officials were reviewing the letter. He did not immediately commit to a Biden meeting with the lawmakers.

But Cedric Richmond, a senior Biden adviser, said the president “is very willing to meet with anyone to advance the agenda.” When asked about the senators’ plan, Richmond said, “this is about seriousness of purpose.”

Deese indicated the White House could be open to negotiating on further limiting who would receive stimulus checks. Portman suggested the checks should go to individuals who make no more than $50,000 per year and families capped at $100,000 per year.

Under the Biden plan, families with incomes up to $300,000 could receive some stimulus money.

“That is certainly a place that we’re willing to sit down and think about, are there ways to make the entire package more effective?” Deese said.

As a candidate, Biden predicted his decades in the Senate and his eight years as Barack Obama’s vice president gave him credibility as a deal-maker and would help him bring Republicans and Democrats to consensus on the most important matters facing the country.

But less than two weeks into his presidency, Biden showed frustration with the pace of negotiations for relief at a time further signs of economic wear from the pandemic. Last week, 847,000 Americans applied for unemployment benefits, a sign that layoffs remain high as the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage.

“I support passing COVID relief with support from Republicans if we can get it. But the COVID relief has to pass — no ifs, ands or buts,” Biden said on Friday.

In the letter, the Republican lawmakers reminded Biden that in his inaugural address, he proclaimed that the challenges facing the nation require “the most elusive of things in a democracy: Unity.”

Cassidy separately criticized the current Biden plan as “chock-full of handouts and payoffs to Democratic constituency groups.”

“You want the patina of bipartisanship ... so that’s not unity,” Cassidy said.

Jared Bernstein, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said Biden remains willing to negotiate but that officials needed to see more details from Republicans. At the same time, Bernstein pressed the administration’s argument that doing too little to stimulate the economy could have enormous impact on the economy in the near- and long-term.

“Look, the American people really couldn’t care less about budget process, whether it’s regular order, bipartisanship, whether it’s filibuster, whether it’s reconciliation,” Bernstein said. “They need relief, and they need it now.”

Portman and Deese were on CNN’s “State of the Union,” and Deese also was interviewed on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Cassidy and Bernstein appeared on “Fox News Sunday” and Richmond was on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

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