Political News

White House still waiting for GOP response to follow-up from Oval Office Covid-19 relief meeting

Posted February 3, 2021 7:25 p.m. EST

— The White House, in the wake of President Joe Biden's lengthy two-hour meeting with 10 Senate Republicans Monday night, sent two detailed memos to the group the next morning addressing specific concerns raised about school funding and direct payments.

Republicans have yet to respond, according to an administration official.

The memos, obtained by CNN, provide insight into the specific policy concerns raised by Republicans in the February 1 meeting -- and were an effort, administration officials said, to provide a detailed defense of the proposal.

Biden, in the meeting, promised senators they would receive those details, and by 11 a.m. the next morning they were sent to Capitol Hill.

A major point of contention between Republicans and the White House has been what senators have viewed as a lack of justification for the scale of Biden's plan. The memos, sent at Biden's request, served as an effort to address that issue.

Before a meeting with key Senate Democrats in the Oval Office Wednesday, Biden said he still believed there would be Republicans who support a final agreement.

"I think we'll get some Republicans," Biden told reporters in advance of the 90-minute meeting.

But with Democrats starting to move forward on crafting the legislation, the window for negotiations is starting to close -- and the gulf between the White House and interested Senate Republicans remains wide.

House Democrats voted to pass their budget resolution Wednesday, a key step in the move toward the process -- known as reconciliation -- that would allow the Senate to pass a relief package with a simple majority vote in the Senate, where Democrats currently hold the slimmest of majorities.

The Senate is expected to follow suit later this week.

While the process will still take several weeks as committees draft their specific pieces of the aid package, it underscores the desire of congressional Democrats -- with the explicit support of Biden -- to move urgently.

It's also something, given significant GOP objections to the scale of Biden's plan, that has put the prospects of a bipartisan final bill into question.

"If President Biden works with Republicans, and we make some modifications to his plan, it's entirely possible that there would be some Republican support," Sen. Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican who attended the Oval Office meeting, told reporters. "But if it goes forward without any changes from what was originally proposed, I would predict that not a single Republican will support the $1.9 trillion dollar plan."

School funding

One of the significant differences between Biden's $1.9 trillion proposal and the $618 billion offer put on the table by Republicans is in the area of K-12 school funding. The Biden proposal calls for $130 billion, compared to the $20 billion in the Senate GOP proposal.

The memo contains a detailed breakdown of the $130 billion proposal, as well as the citations and links for how the final number was modeled.

"The President's proposal covers a broader set of categories than CDC's non-exhaustive 2020 report. It provides sufficient funds for districts to 1) avoid lay-offs into the next school year and 2) cover the additional costs districts must incur as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and necessary for reopening, including supporting the academic, social and emotional needs of students," the memo states.

Republicans have pushed back on the scale of the school funding, noting that through January 22, of the $64.5 billion appropriated, only $4.4 billion had been spent. The entirety of the funding has been obligated, and administration officials say that funding will likely be spent in the coming weeks.

Stimulus checks

A second memo details the administration's push for $1,400 stimulus checks -- an issue Republicans have been critical of due to the scale of the proposed distribution.

Biden, in a call with House Democrats Wednesday, said he's open to shifting the thresholds for those who qualify for the checks. But he made clear the top-line number is not negotiable.

"I think we can better target the number, I'm OK with that," Biden told House Democrats, according to a recording of the call obtained by CNN. "But we're gonna start — I'm not gonna start my administration by breaking a promise to the American people."

The Republican proposal would lower the income thresholds to qualify for the direct payments to $50,000 for individuals -- down from $75,000 in Biden's proposal -- and to $100,000 for couples, down from $150,000.

The size of the checks would also be narrowed, to $1,000 from $1,400.

Democrats are weighing a narrowing of their own -- as some Senate Democrats have raised concern about the scale of the checks, two people familiar with the talks told CNN.

But the White House, in the memo, laid out that they view the Senate GOP proposal as insufficient -- and directly called into question analysis shared by Republicans at the meeting as having "significant flaws."

"The proposal would result in 23 million fewer Americans receiving direct payments, and 135 million Americans receiving lower payments than a targeted version" in Biden's proposal, the memo states.

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