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the coronavirus crisis

White House, bipartisan group of lawmakers discuss Biden's COVID-19 relief plan

White House officials and 16 moderate Democratic and Republican senators discussed President Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan on Sunday, The Washington Post reports, with several lawmakers saying they want to see aid targeted to those who are most in need.

The hourlong Zoom call was organized by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and led by National Economic Council Director Brian Deese. Biden has called for unity and wants to see bipartisan support for his plan, and prior to the call, Deese told reporters "we're at a precarious moment for the virus and the economy. Without decisive action, we risk falling into a very serious economic hole, even more serious than the crisis we find ourselves in."

There was agreement on the need to spend more money on producing and distributing vaccines, the Post reports. The consensus is not there when it comes to $1,400 checks, though, and some lawmakers want to narrow it down so the money goes to the neediest families, instead of Americans who make $75,000 or less, as was done during the last two rounds of COVID-19 relief. Some Republicans have also complained about the proposal including an increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

"There are still a lot of unanswered questions, most notably, how did the administration come up with $1.9 trillion dollars required, given that our figures show that there's still about $1.8 trillion left to be spent," Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told the Post. "We hope to get more data documenting the need from them." Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) described the call as a "genuine, open discussion," and said the proposal's $1.9 trillion price tag "isn't Monopoly money. Every dollar that we're talking about here is being borrowed from our grandchildren. We have a responsibility to be stewards."

People involved with the call told the Post the White House officials listened and promised to get answers to lawmakers' questions. While Biden and others may be holding out for a united vote, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) suggested the use of a procedural tool that would let Democrats push the package through. The Senate is split 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris the tiebreaker.