Biden's team is reportedly surprised Republicans don't see the political upsides of backing a big COVID-19 bill

Biden meets with Senate Republicans
(Image credit: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

The politics of COVID-19 spending legislation is complicated.

President Biden and former President Donald Trump, who don't agree on much, both pushed to get $2,000 direct payments to most Americans this winter, and the Republican governor of West Virginia is backing Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package while his state's Democratic senator, Joe Manchin, favors a smaller package. The White House is privately meeting with a group of Senate Republicans who proposed a $618 billion alternative package, The Associated Press reports, even as Biden and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen reject that amount as insufficient and urge Democrats to go big and go quickly.

Biden and his advisers "publicly tout the virtues of bipartisan collaboration," but "they aren't pollyannaish about it," Sam Stein reports at Politico. "They know there is no recent history to suggest any such collaboration is coming.," but "inside the White House there is still some surprise that Republicans currently aren't more interested in working with them on COVID relief. Not because they believe Republicans philosophically support the bill, but because there are clear political incentives for them to do so."

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Biden and his aides have noted repeatedly that just because the budget reconciliation process would allow Democrats to pass much of the $1.9 trillion package without Republican support, Republicans can still vote for the package.

If Democrats go the budget reconciliation route, the 10 Senate Republicans can either "oppose the measure without being able to stop it or work to shape it, pledge to vote for it, and get credit for the goodies inside it," Stein reports. "Put another way: Republicans could vote for a bill that includes billions of dollars of help for states, massive amounts of cash for vaccine distribution, and $1,400 stimulus check for most Americans. Or they could oppose it on grounds that the price tag is too steep, or the minimum wage hike is too high, or the process too rushed." And if they do that, a senior administration official told Stein, "they'll get no credit" for those $1,400 checks.

Democrats only have the party-line option because they unexpectedly won both Senate seats in a Georgia runoff election, Stein notes, and one political "lesson from that episode is, quite bluntly: It's better to be on the side of giving people money." Trump understood that. Time will tell what Senate Republicans will decide.

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