Biden, Yellen say GOP virus aid too small, Democrats push on

Full Screen
1 / 5

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

President Joe Biden meets Republican lawmakers to discuss a coronavirus relief package, in the Oval Office of the White House, Monday, Feb. 1, 2021, in Washington. From left, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, Vice President Kamala Harris, Biden, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden panned a Republican alternative to his $1.9 trillion COVID rescue plan as insufficient Tuesday as Senate Democrats pushed ahead, voting to launch a process that could approve his sweeping rescue package on their own, if Republicans refuse to support it.

Biden and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen joined the Democratic senators for a private virtual meeting, both declaring the Republicans' $618 billion offer was too small. They urged big fast action to stem the pandemic crisis and economic fallout.

As the White House reaches for a bipartisan bill, Democrats marshaled their ever-slim Senate majority, voting 50-49, to start a lengthy process for approving Biden's bill with or without GOP support. The goal is passage by March.

“President Biden spoke about the need for Congress to respond boldly and quickly,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said after the lunch meeting.

“If we did a package that small, we’d be mired in the COVID crisis for years.”

The swift action from Democrats on Capitol Hill underscores the urgency of delivering Biden's top legislative priority even as talks are progressing privately between Republicans and the White House, as well as with centrist Democrats, on potential changes to the package to win over broader bipartisan support.

Biden framed his views during the virtual lunch meeting with Democrats by talking about the need not to forget working and middle-class families — even those like nurses and pipefitters making $150,000 for a family of four — who are straining during the crisis, according to a person granted anonymity to discuss the private call.

The night before, Biden met with 10 Republican senators pitching their $618 billion alternative, and let them know it was insufficient to meet the country's needs. The president made it clear that he won’t delay aid in hopes of winning GOP support.