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Congressional Democrats view bipartisan plan as low priority for Covid-19 relief

Posted February 1, 2021 9:28 p.m. EST

— Democrats on Capitol Hill are willing to give President Joe Biden the opportunity to secure Republican support for his broad Covid-19 relief package, but they aren't willing to wait long or shrink the size of the package to the levels GOP leaders are currently suggesting.

"Republicans want to climb out of a 13-foot hole with a 6-foot ladder," one senior aide to a Democratic senator told CNN on Monday. "We don't have time to wait for them to get serious about the problem."

Congressional Democrats' urgency was shown in the party leadership's decision to swiftly introduce budget resolutions, beginning the process of passing parts of the White House's relief package through reconciliation, a procedural shortcut. That could take up to a month, which would give Republicans the chance to come to the table but also leaves open the option to get the job done without them.

Biden has begun the process of extending Republicans a hand. The President hosted Republican senators for two hours in the Oval Office on Monday to hear out their proposal for a Covid-19 relief bill, which at $618 billion comes in at less than a third of the $1.9 trillion measure he is pushing.

Afterward, the lawmakers emerged to describe the meeting as "cordial," "frank" and "useful." But they did not suggest Biden had come down from his figure, nor did they announce they were willing to meet him at a new number.

For Democrats, the timeline is the priority -- not getting Republicans to support the plan.

"My constituents don't call me on the phone and say, 'I need bipartisanship,' " said Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel of Florida. "They call me on the phone and they say, Where can I get a vaccine?' "

She added, "I think there is a total overemphasis of the word bipartisanship and the word unity should be unity with our constituents. I will say, you know, overwhelmingly, the American people are behind this by the plan."

At this point, Democrats do not view the GOP alternatives as substantive and are making it clear to their Republican colleagues that they do not plan to wait for them to participate in the process. They believe the Biden package -- and its price tag -- are necessary to deal with the problem as it currently exists.

Democrats hope Republicans recognize that by introducing the budget resolutions and setting the stage for reconciliation they have the ability to push the plan through, with or without GOP support.

"This is a symbol of how serious we are. We are not fooling around and not waiting," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat.

"You know it has not been very long since the inauguration," she added. "We are absolutely prepared to move ahead and would prefer if the Republicans would simply agree that this level of spending is exactly what we need."

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