WASHINGTON — Republican senators are taking a targeted approach to arriving at a figure for a new COVID stimulus package, but whether that has any traction with Pres. Joe Biden’s goal of $1.9 billion is another question.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va, said in a virtual press conference this week that she and nine other GOP Senators had a “productive meeting” with the President on Monday and may have found some areas of compromise that can lend themselves to a bipartisan package.
“I think we would like to see that, but I think at this point from what I am hearing that’s going on in the halls here in Washington I think it’s probably unlikely,” she said of the Democratic leadership rhetoric about moving forward regardless.
However, Capito and the other Republicans may have gotten a boost from her West Virginia colleague, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., late on Tuesday.
Manchin said he would not support a stimulus plan unless it is a bipartisan effort.
That could mean a simple majority, which would be needed if the Democrats decide to use a procedure called reconciliation to push the plan through, may not be possible without Manchin’s vote since it’s a 50-50 Senate. Otherwise, a 60-vote majority is needed.
“I will only support moving in a bipartisan way,” he said in various news reports. “That means an open process. I’ve been very clear about that.”
In a statement from his office, Manchin also said, “I will vote to move forward with the budget process because we must address the urgency of the COVID-19 crisis. But let me be clear—and these are words I shared with President Biden—our focus must be targeted on the COVID-19 crisis and Americans who have been most impacted by this pandemic.”
That targeting is at the heart of what Capito said she and other Republicans want to do.
“We have come up with what is a more targeted plan which will be around $619 billion, which is still quite a bit of money.”
Capito said the GOP plan focuses on healthcare, the opioid crisis, individual checks and unemployment.
“There were some vast differences in some areas but a lot of similarities at the same time,” she said, especially the opioid crisis with both plans earmarking $4 billion. “The President was very open, he was very willing to listen. He didn’t exactly pledge to redo his entire bill but he certainly wanted to hear our viewpoints.”
One area of some compromise may be the stimulus checks. “The President did emphasize very strongly during the meeting … that the $1,400 is a non-negotiable figure for him,” she said. “He is very compelled to follow through on what he said (during the campaign).”
Although the GOP countered with $1,000, the $1,400 may work if the money is more targeted to people who need it the most.
“The biggest area where we may see some changes, and ‘may’ is a big word there, the President’s plan on the individual checks where you many have a family of five and make up to $300,000 and still receive a stimulus check,” she said. “Those are families that probably haven’t lost their jobs.”
The money should follow the need, she said.
“We were arguing we should be targeting these stimulus checks to people who are going to spend it because it is supposed to be stimulus, and also to people who really need it for food or rent or otherwise. So you may see a more narrow window there of people who will be able to get a stimulus check.”
Republicans want to lower the upper cap on the stimulus money to $50,000 (from $75,000) for individuals and $100,000 for couples (down from $150,000).
A major difference totaling $500 billion between the GOP and Biden plans is money for states and localities as well as money for schools.
The Biden plan earmarks $350 billion for state and localities and $170 billion for schools.
The GOP proposal has no money for states and localities and only $20 billion for schools.
Capito said Pres. Biden liked the comments of Gov. Jim Justice, who said Monday the federal government should “go bold” and make the stimulus package much larger than the GOP proposal, meaning part of that $350 billion would go to West Virginia.
“My response, quite frankly, is what governor would not want it to be as big as possible?” she said, with governors around the country having that much money and non-targeted. “I think every governor would want that.”
With five pandemic relief bills totaling more $4 trillion already passed in 2020, this money should be “targeted where it’s needed,” she said. “What I would prefer to do, let’s look at the state, but let’s also look at the municipalities and the counties and let’s see where the revenue loss is and, instead of just throwing $1.25 billion back to Gov. Justice like we did in the first one (stimulus package last year- CARES Act), let’s target it to where it’s really needed.”
Capito said there are “hotspots” around the country that rely on tourism and energy production that may be hit hardest.
“You have certain pockets that are harmed more than others in states and localities so I think that’s the way we should look at state and local.”
Capito said all the money, whether it’s for healthcare facilities, schools, treatment facilities or help with the National Guard, should be needed.
As far as schools are concerned, she said $130 billion was already earmarked for schools.
“Schools reopening is so incredibly important,” she said, second only to vaccine distribution. “What we decided was, we’ve already given the schools $130 billion to buy PPE, to distance, to get partitions up and all of this we wanted so it would be as safe as possible,” she said.
Teachers are also being vaccinated.
“That’s why you see less money there, because the plan that he outlined for us was something that is not going to get the kids back in school in six months ... (it is for) dividing classrooms, hiring more teachers … more of an expansion of people working around and in the schools,” she said. “That will not “get our kids back in school soon enough. It is important to reopen schools, but we thought the figure is not just a little high, it is real high, too high.”
Capito remains optimistic that all senators can work together since Pres. Biden “did emphasize things should be done in a bipartisan way.”
However, she said it looks like Democratic leadership in both the Senate and House are moving forward with reconciliation.
That is a move could avoid a filibuster and take legislation to a simple majority vote, rather than a 60-vote majority, but Capito said reconciliation would take a longer time to work through.
“We kept emphasizing to him that if we go to a more targeted approach where we can get bipartisan ideas and we could do this a lot quicker…” she said. “I think it’s good to keep the dialogue going.”
Capito said she is hoping the President will offer a counter proposal and she does think Biden wants dialogue.
“I think he probably wants to go back to that kind of a debate with the Senate,” she said, which has been a different story for the six years she has served in the Senate. “You fight, fight, fight then you go back to your separate corners and you don’t ever get back together to work on the next issue” Capito said she is “encouraged, but I’m not overly encourage,” she said. “We had a very productive meeting, I thought, but whether it results in anything … there is always a hope and expectation that things will change. I feel pretty optimistic about it.”
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