President Joe Biden told House Democrats Wednesday that he was open to further limiting eligibility for his proposed coronavirus payments, but that the size of the $1,400 payments was a campaign pledge he can’t break.
“I’m not going to start my administration by breaking a promise to the American people,” Biden reportedly said on a call with the House Democratic Caucus.
Biden reportedly told his fellow Democrats that he’s “not married” to a specific dollar figure for the next Covid relief package and that they could make compromises in a number of areas, but he urged his party’s lawmakers to stick together and act quickly. He also said that the $618 billion Republican counteroffer to his $1.9 trillion proposal “was not even in the cards.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Wednesday sharply criticized the plan released this week by 10 Republican senators, saying that it doesn’t go far enough in key areas like direct payments, unemployment benefits, aid to state and local governments and eviction protections. She added that Biden and Senate Democrats were united on the need to “go big” with the next Covid relief package.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) also said that Democrats were in agreement on the need to “go big and bold.”
"We must not, must not, repeat the mistakes of the past and do too little, too reluctantly, and too late," he said in a speech on the Senate floor.
A split inside the White House? Psaki also pushed back on claims from some Senate Republicans that Biden was inclined to negotiate a compromise deal with the GOP but was being kept from doing so by Democratic congressional leaders and White House staff.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and a number of other GOP senators have floated that theory following Biden’s Monday meeting with the 10 Republicans behind the $618 billion plan.
“Our members who were in the meeting felt that the president seemed to be more interested in [a compromise] than his staff did, or it seems like the Democratic leadership in the House and the Senate,” McConnell said Tuesday. In a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday, he criticized Democrats’ preparations to pass a relief package via a party-line vote, and added: “The new president talks a lot about unity, but his White House staff and Congressional leadership are working from the opposite playbook.”
In an Oval Office meeting with Schumer and Senate Democratic leaders, Biden said he thought the relief package would ultimately win some Republican backing. Psaki later told reporters that the suggestion of a split between Biden and his advisers is “ludicrous.”
What’s next: Congressional Democrats are speeding ahead with their plans. The House voted 218-212 Wednesday evening to pass a budget resolution with reconciliation instructions for Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief package. The Senate is moving toward a “vote-a-rama” on a slew of amendments to the budget resolution and then a vote on the resolution itself later this week.
Correction: This article was updated to reflect that Sen. Chuck Schumer is the Senate majority leader.