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As GOP Senators Push Smaller Covid-19 Relief Package, Dem Leaders Move to Advance Biden's Bolder Plan

"Congress must pursue a bold and robust course of action. It makes no sense to pinch pennies when so many Americans are struggling," said the Senate majority leader.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and then-Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) speak after a press conference on Capitol Hill on December 20, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and then-Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) speak after a press conference on Capitol Hill on December 20, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

Ahead of President Joe Biden's Monday evening meeting with GOP senators to discuss watering down his Covid-19 relief proposal, congressional Democratic leaders took the first step toward passing a bolder pandemic aid package through a process that would not require any Republican support.

"The American people cannot afford any more delays and the Congress must act to prevent more needless suffering."
—Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) filed a joint budget resolution for Fiscal Year 2021 giving Congress an additional tool to pass relief legislation enacting Biden's American Rescue Plan—a $1.9 trillion proposal he unveiled before taking office last month.

If both chambers pass the budget resolution, lawmakers can work on a reconciliation bill that can't be blocked by a filibuster so only needs majority support to get to Biden's desk.

"Congress has a responsibility to quickly deliver immediate comprehensive relief to the American people hurting from Covid-19," the Democratic leaders said in a joint statement. "The cost of inaction is high and growing, and the time for decisive action is now. With this budget resolution, the Democratic Congress is paving the way for the landmark Biden-Harris coronavirus package that will crush the virus and deliver real relief to families and communities in need."

"We are hopeful that Republicans will work in a bipartisan manner to support assistance for their communities," Schumer and Pelosi added, "but the American people cannot afford any more delays and the Congress must act to prevent more needless suffering."

As the U.S. Covid-19 death toll has grown, millions of people have lost jobs and struggled to afford basic necessities such as food and housing. For months last year, congressional Republican leadership blocked additional aid for Americans, small businesses, and local, state, and tribal governments.

"Congress must pursue a bold and robust course of action. It makes no sense to pinch pennies when so many Americans are struggling," Schumer said on the Senate floor Monday. The Senate majority leader also nodded to a $618 billion relief proposal put forward by 10 Senate Republicans over the weekend.

"The only thing we cannot accept is a package that is too small or too narrow to pull our country out of this emergency," he said. "We cannot repeat the mistake of 2009, and we must act very soon to get this assistance to those so desperately in need."

Schumer also emphasized there is nothing in the process "that precludes our work from being bipartisan."

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Meanwhile, at the White House, when asked whether "going big or going bipartisan" is "more important to the president" when it comes to Covid-19 relief, his "first legislative test," Press Secretary Jen Psaki  pushed back against the suggestion that the administration "can't have both."

"Well, I think the president believes we can," she said. "And there is historic evidence that it is possible to take a number of paths—including through reconciliation, if that's the path that is pursued—and for the vote to be bipartisan."

"But it's important to him that he hears his group out on their concerns, on their ideas," Psaki continued. "He's always open to making this package stronger. And he also, as was noted in our statement last night, remains in close touch with Speaker Pelosi, with Leader Schumer, and he will continue that engagement throughout the day and in the days ahead."

As for Biden's meeting with GOP senators, she said that it is part of the president and administration's "close and ongoing engagement with members of both parties... on Capitol Hill and on the American Rescue package."

Through these conversations, Psaki explained, the administration has underscored that the nation is facing major economic and health issues—with experts warning the pandemic will get worse thanks to more contagious variants of the virus—and the "need to move swiftly to address them with a package that is big enough to get schools safely reopened, give financially struggling families and communities a bridge, and deliver on his promise to speed up vaccine delivery and defeat the virus."

"It's important to remember," she added, "that the size of the package was designed with the size of the crisis—dual crises."

In contrast with the declarations of bipartisanship coming from the White House, key progressives in both chambers of Congress have made clear that if Republicans aren't willing to go big on pandemic relief, they are willing and ready to use the budget reconciliation process, which prevents a GOP filibuster in the 50-50 Senate.

"Covid relief can't wait any longer," declared Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, in a Sunday night tweet. "If the Republican Party doesn't feel the urgency of Americans who are struggling to keep food on the table, then it's time for us to act without them."

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) noted in a televised interview last month that Republicans used reconciliation under former President Donald Trump "to pass massive tax breaks for the rich and large corporations."

"And what we are saying is, 'You used it for that, that's fine. We're gonna use reconciliation—that is, 50 votes in the Senate plus the vice president—to pass legislation desperately needed by working families in this country right now," added Sanders, chair of the Senate Budget Committee. "You did it, we're gonna do it, but we're gonna do it to protect ordinary people, not just the rich and the powerful."

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