Biden’s dilemma: bipartisanship or overwhelm his congress majority
By Beatriz Pascual Macías
Washington, Feb 1 (efe-epa).- Almost two weeks after arriving at the White House, United States President Joe Biden faces a dilemma: approve a $ 1.9 trillion economic aid package pleasing congress’ democrat majority or seeking an alliance with Republicans, in keeping with his promise to unite the country.
Biden has yet to make a decision, but any steps he takes on this matter could define his relationship with congress for the next four years.
The first thing Biden did was meet with 10 moderate Republican Party senators Monday at the White House who are calling for a $ 618 billion aid package to be approved to revive the battered US economy and deal with the pandemic.
That number is about one-third of the $ 1.9 trillion Biden and congressional Democrats demand.
So far, the White House has not shown signs of being willing to cut the number of its aid plan and, in fact, today its spokesperson, Jen Psaki, said Biden is concerned the stimulus package is too small and not too big, as Republicans claim.
The meeting was behind closed doors, but for 40 seconds the press was able to access the Oval Office. There, Biden thanked senators for coming to the White House and said he was “anxious” to talk to them about the stimulus package.
“I feel like I’m back in the senate, which is what I’ve liked most of all I’ve done,” said Biden, who for 36 years held one of the Delaware seats.
Republicans who attended the meeting included Senators from the center who have occasionally broken with party discipline, such as Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah. Romney was a Republican presidential candidate in 2012 and very critical of former President Donald Trump.
Speaking to the press after the meeting, which lasted two hours, Collins said it was “productive,” “cordial,” “frank,” and “useful.”
“I think it was an excellent meeting and we appreciate that her first official meeting in the Oval Office was with us,” said Collins, who added that negotiations would continue.
During the meeting, the group of senators presented Biden’s plan, which focuses on the effects of the pandemic on health, rather than the economy; so the item that receives the most funds ($ 160 billion) is destined to increase the number of tests available and accelerate the vaccination campaign.
The proposal sets the direct aid that Americans would receive at a one-time payment of $ 1,000, instead of the $ 1,400 Democrats want.
In addition, it eliminates two of the priorities set out in the Democratic proposal: aid for states and municipalities that have lost income by collecting less taxes due to the decline in economic activity and measures to gradually increase the federal minimum wage to $ 15 an hour.
The Republican Party believes including those measures would further indebt the US and consider the Democratic proposals too costly, since congress previously approved two rescue packages: one of 2.2 trillion dollars in March, and another of 900,000 million dollars in December.
Democrats, however, have said they are willing to go ahead without the Republicans and pass the $ 1.9 trillion package alone.
In theory, they could do so using senate rules to pass the budget; but if an agreement was reached with the 10 Republican senators, Biden’s party would not have to resort to that subterfuge and could follow traditional procedures.
Each party controls 50 seats in the senate, but Democrats have a majority because, as vice president, Kamala Harris presides over the upper house and is the tiebreaker vote for the Democrats.
However, the position of Democrats in the senate is precarious and they will have to juggle to keep together senators of their caucus with very different ideologies, from the progressive Bernie Sanders to the moderate Joe Manchin, who has yet to support Biden’s proposal.
While the negotiations were taking place the Congressional Budget Office published a damning Monday report: the economy is expected to return to pre-pandemic levels by mid-year, but it will take years for them to recover the jobs lost in the crisis.