Ten Republicans on Sunday sketched out a $600 billion counteroffer to President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus bill. While the GOP proposal contains money for coronavirus testing and vaccination as well as for small businesses and some direct payments to individuals (albeit a smaller amount to a more restrictive group of people), the gap between the two plans is enormous. The Post also reports: “The GOP proposal jettisons certain elements that have drawn Republican opposition, such as increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.”
The counteroffer underscores several aspects of the dynamic between Congress and the new president. First, despite the media hounding the White House about when they will resort to reconciliation, the outreach from the White House has induced at least some kind of response. This is how negotiations work: posturing, initial offers and more discussion before you can determine if there is a bill to be had. Second, the Republican counteroffer suggests there is some segment of the party nervous about pure obstructionism. Biden has been banking on a split in Republican ranks that would give him reasonable negotiating partners to bypass Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and his MAGA crowd. Third, Biden will face pressure from progressives who want to move ahead with a reconciliation process to pass his bill as it is with only 51 votes and from Republicans insisting he make good on his promise to work with them.
One suspects Biden is willing to compromise on some points (e.g., the income cap for an additional direct payment) or send some proposals over to his larger economic recovery plan (e.g., a $15 minimum wage). However, he has been warned by everyone from business leaders to the Federal Reserve chairman that the real risk is doing too little, not too much. It’s hard to believe he would go without substantial funds for state and local government, for example.
Indeed, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., laid out the argument in an interview with ABC’s Martha Raddatz for going forward with Democratic votes only:
SANDERS: So, the question is not bipartisanship. The question is addressing the unprecedented crisis that we face right now. If Republicans want to work with us, they have better ideas on how to address those crises, that’s great. But, to be honest with you, I have not yet heard that.
RADDATZ: Does your party have the votes to pass the relief package through the reconciliation process, if you decide to go that route?
SANDERS: Yes, I believe that we do, because it’s hard for me to imagine any Democrat, no matter what state he or she may come from, who doesn’t understand the need to go forward right now in an aggressive way to protect the working families of this country.
Look, all of us will have differences of opinion. This is a $1.9 trillion bill. I have differences and concerns about this bill. But, at the end of the day, we’re going to support the president of the United States, and we’re going to come forward, and we’re going to do what the American people overwhelmingly want us to do.
The polling is overwhelming, Republicans, Democrats, independents. They know this country is in trouble.
RADDATZ: Senator — Senator, you say you’re confident about the Democrats ... .
SANDERS: Yes, I am absolutely confident.
And I will tell you also why. Joe Manchin is a chairman. I’m a chairman. Democrats have majority because of the fact that we won two seats with great candidates in Georgia.
And, obviously, those candidates won the support of the people of Georgia, but that campaign, in many ways, was a national campaign.
And what those candidates said is, yes, we are going to provide checks of $2,000 — $1,400 on top of the $600. Yes, we’re going to extend unemployment benefits. Yes, we are going to address the needs of working families.
Appearing on “Meet the Press,” National Economic Council Director Brian Deese said the White House would review the Republican’s bill. He cautioned, “We have a real urgency to act and to act comprehensively.”
Both in the short and long term, Biden is going to judged on what he delivered, rather than the process (reconciliation vs. a filibuster-proof bill). If $1,400 direct payments and ample funding for states and localities prove popular and effective, few voters will care how the vote in the Senate came about.
That said, Biden campaigned on a style of leadership that is being tested. Unity is not the same as bipartisanship, but compromise is an essential part of functional government. Biden is going to want to do many more things in the months ahead, such as voting rights reform and a large green-energy plan. Working with Republicans now, even at the cost of getting a little less than he wanted, may help him get deals on other items down the road.
A promise from Republicans, for example, to not filibuster on voting rights, green energy or other agenda items could substantially sweeten the pot for Biden. That really would be a step in the direction of unity.
Jennifer Rubin writes reported opinion for The Washington Post.