by Christy Bieber | Jan. 14, 2021
Will Republicans agree to provide more coronavirus relief?
Washington has been consumed for months with a dispute over how much coronavirus stimulus money to provide. With the incoming Biden administration intending to make another COVID-19 relief bill one of its first actions, it appears the dealmaking and partisan wrangling on this issue may not be over yet.
President-elect Joe Biden is planning to release a coronavirus stimulus proposal as soon as this Thursday. It's widely expected to include more direct aid to Americans including checks up to $2,000 deposited into Americans' bank accounts. It will likely also include money for schools and vaccines, financial relief for states, and a host of other key Democratic priorities.
But according to reports, transition officials and Biden aides have made clear that their intention is to try to get bipartisan support for the relief package. This is in keeping with the president-elect's campaign promises to work with the other side. But it could also mean that Biden's coronavirus aid proposals may not be as bold as his earlier rhetoric suggested, as some on the left were hoping.
In discussing the plan he intends to put forth, the president-elect foreshadowed the release of an expansive bill authorizing the generous aid Democrats have been clamouring for. "The price tag will be high," Biden said of his stimulus proposal. He also made clear he believes "we should be investing significant amounts of money right now," to keep the economy from getting worse.
Since both mainstream Democrats and progressive stalwarts have repeatedly argued for coronavirus relief bills with multi-trillion dollar price tags, all signs suggest Biden's proposal could cost as much as $2 trillion to $3 trillion. After all, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives initially passed The HEROES Act to provide more than $3 trillion in aid, although they scaled the bill down as negotiations dragged on.
However, if Biden's plan comes in at the high price he suggested, getting Republican support will likely be very difficult. Before the recent $900 billion coronavirus stimulus deal passed, Republicans had repeatedly indicated they wanted to keep the cost of subsequent relief measures below $1 trillion. Since the government just spent $900 billion, appetite on the right for another even more expensive bill a few short months later is likely to be nonexistent.
In fact, anticipating they'd have trouble getting support from the other side of the aisle, party leaders on the left have floated the idea of using a process called reconciliation to pass relief legislation. While most bills require 60 votes to overcome a filibuster and advance in the Senate, those passed through reconciliation need just 51 votes. With the Democrats holding 50 seats in the Senate and the vice president casting the tie-breaking vote, they could pass a partisan plan -- as long as they don't lose any support from their caucus.
However, it now appears that Biden's hope is that they won't have to use reconciliation to get a relief measure passed. Instead, administration officials have indicated their goal is to get Republican buy-in and pass the bill via the regular process.
Of course, to have a chance at achieving that objective, the legislation would likely need a much smaller price tag than Biden suggested. And it's likely to disappoint some progressives who are hoping the party will go big in the relief it offers. The incoming president may also have to be willing to compromise on key Democratic priorities -- such as providing substantial relief to struggling states, which has been strongly opposed by many on the right.
If Biden releases a scaled-down bill, some Republicans who have said they were on board with President Trump's calls to provide $2,000 stimulus checks might be willing to sign on. However, getting nine votes to overcome a filibuster will be a tall order. When the administration reveals its plans on Thursday, the cost of the bill and its contents will determine whether or not a bipartisan deal is possible -- or whether that idea is dead on arrival.
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