WASHINGTON, D.C., USA — Editor's Note: The video above is a clip from Jan. 14 when Joe Biden unveiled his COVID-19 relief proposal.
Maine Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins are among the bipartisan group of 16 senators set to talk coronavirus relief this weekend with an aide to the president. Collins will lead the group alongside Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
President Joe Biden unveiled a $1.9 trillion coronavirus plan last week that would speed up vaccine production and provide financial support to those struggling amid the prolonged economic fallout. The proposed plan includes $1,400 stimulus payments—on top of the $600 provided in the recent COVID-19 bill, bringing the total to $2,000.
The virtual meeting with National Economic Council Director Brian Deese this weekend is likely the first of many package negotiations among key players in the Senate. The group is an extension of the coalition that was formed to negotiate the $908 billion relief package which passed in December, which Collins and King were also part of.
The 16 senators include:
- Todd Young (Ind.)
- Jerry Moran (Kan.)
- Shelly Moore Capito (W.Va.)
- Susan Collins (Maine)
- Lisa Murkowski (Alaska)
- Mitt Romney (Utah)
- Rob Portman (Ohio)
- Bill Cassidy (La.)
- Joe Manchin (W.Va.)
- Mark Warner (Va.)
- Dick Durbin (Ill.)
- Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.)
- Angus King (Maine)
- Maggie Hassan (N.H.)
- John Hickenlooper (Colo.)
- Mark Kelly (Ariz.)
King, an Independent who caucuses with the Democrats, said Thursday during an interview with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell that while negotiations will undoubtedly be necessary, he’s “reasonably optimistic” a relief package would get two-thirds majority in the Senate and pass.
“I think most people on both sides of the aisle realize the job isn't done with regard to Covid, that there's more work necessary in terms of assistance to states and localities, vaccine distribution—you just had an important section on that that's going to take additional resources—support for individuals,” King said during the interview. “So I think there's going to be a fair amount of debate, but I'm reasonably optimistic that we'll be able to get 60 votes and that's it's better when we can then you've got bipartisan buy-in and I think that's a much stronger position to work from.”
But Collins and other GOP senators aren’t yet sold on Biden’s plan. CNN Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju said Thursday Collins was dismissive of the stimulus package.
“We just passed $900 billion worth of assistance; why we would have a package that big now? Maybe a couple of months from now the needs will be evident and we will need to do something significant. But I'm not seeing it right now,” Collins said.
In a statement to NEWS CENTER Maine on Friday, Collins reaffirmed the point she made to Raju that a $900 billion relief package was passed less than a month ago.
"Less than a month ago, President Trump signed into law a $900 billion COVID relief package that the bipartisan group I lead with Senator Joe Manchin played a key role in negotiating," Collins said in a statement. "This funding is on top of the approximately $3 trillion that Congress provided previously for COVID relief and that is still being allocated. Any new COVID relief package must be focused on the public health and economic crisis at hand. Provisions that are unrelated to Covid-19 should be considered and debated separately."
Collins also said she looks forward to "hearing more about the administration’s specific proposals to assist with vaccine distribution, help keep our families and communities safe, and combat this virus so our country can return to normal."
According to The Hill, Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, a member of GOP leadership, called Biden’s proposal a “non-starter,” but said parts of the plan could get bipartisan support. Other GOP members also indicated they weren’t yet supportive of the plan “but that they wanted to get details from the Biden White House on how the previous coronavirus funds are being dispersed,” The Hill reports.
Romney said, "You know, there would be a lot of places where we agree. I think there'd be a lot of places where we disagree. We just passed a program with over $900 billion in it. I'm not looking for a new program in the immediate future.”
In a White House press briefing Friday, Deese said he and the administration are continuing to engage with members of Congress to listen and address concerns regarding the package, but stressed the importance of decisive action on relief.
"We're at a precarious moment for the virus and the economy," Deese said. "Without decisive action, we risk falling into a very serious economic hole, even more serious than the crisis we find ourselves in...We can't wait."