Rejecting as "totally inadequate" the $618 billion coronavirus relief proposal that a group of Republicans presented to President Joe Biden at the White House late Monday, Sen. Bernie Sanders said Democrats must keep the promises that delivered them unified control of government and pass an ambitious aid package on the scale of the public health and economic emergencies facing the country.
"Now is not the time to count pennies," Sanders (I-Vt.), the incoming chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, said in an appearance on MSNBC Monday night. "The American people are hurting, and they're hurting badly. What worries me is so many, by the millions, of our people are giving up on democracy."
"They really do not believe that the government is listening or understands their pain, and can respond," the Vermont senator continued. "That is what we have got to do, right now."
Sanders' remarks came after a group of ten Republican senators emerged from the two-hour White House meeting late Monday sounding optimistic notes on the possibility of negotiating a compromise deal with Biden, whose $1.9 trillion opening relief offer is three times the size of the GOP counter-proposal.
In a statement following the discussion, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that "while there were areas of agreement, the president also reiterated his view that Congress must respond boldly and urgently, and noted many areas which the Republican senators' proposal does not address."
"He reiterated that while he is hopeful that the Rescue Plan can pass with bipartisan support, a reconciliation package is a path to achieve that end," said Psaki. "The president also made clear that the American Rescue Plan was carefully designed to meet the stakes of this moment, and any changes in it cannot leave the nation short of its pressing needs."
Ahead of Monday's meeting, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) set the stage for passing a relief bill through the filibuster-proof reconciliation process by filing a joint budget resolution, which sets a spending target of up to $1.9 trillion and instructs congressional panels to report legislation that meets that target to the Budget Committee by February 16.
Sanders, who has pressed the Democratic leadership to use the reconciliation process aggressively to pass key priorities, said late Monday that he is confident the Democratic caucus will have the votes to pass a strong relief bill without Republican support, if necessary.
While noting his view that the Biden relief plan "doesn't go far enough," the Vermont senator said the Democratic caucus is unified in being "sick and tired of seeing hundreds of cars lining up for food, kids unable to go to school, people not getting the vaccines as rapidly as they should."
"It would be totally unacceptable for any Democrat to renege on [their] promises," Sanders said of the vows of bold relief that helped Democrats take narrow control of the Senate. "That is why people are giving up on the political process."
As Common Dreams has reported, prominent progressives including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) are concerned that Biden is already walking back a key campaign promise by proposing $1,400 direct payments—which, on top of the previous round of $600 checks, would add up to $2,000—instead of a new round of $2,000 checks.
"$2,000 means $2,000," Ocasio-Cortez told the Washington Post last month. "$2,000 does not mean $1,400."
Further angering progressives is a fresh Bloomberg report indicating that two of Biden's leading economic advisers, Heather Boushey and David Kamin, are internally expressing "reservations" about even the $1,400 payments and warning that "the checks will cost so much that there won't be enough left over in Biden's proposed pandemic relief bill for other priorities."
"There is no substantive case for this crap whatsoever," said The Week's Ryan Cooper. "This is neoliberal brain, worrying that the masses will get hooked on free government money and that will harm incentives."
Economist Claudia Sahm tweeted in response to the Bloomberg reporting that while "reasonable people can disagree" on the details of the relief package, "we need to move past debate and get this $1.9 trillion passed."
"We're in an and/both policy moment," Sahm added. "If you told me I had to choose between jobless benefits or checks, I would choose jobless benefits. We do not have to choose. Do it all. Get it done. (You promised!)."