Senate Republicans and newly inaugurated President Joe Biden are stepping into negotiations around a new COVID-19 relief package for Americans after the deadliest month for the virus to date.
While hospitalizations are down and vaccines are being rolled out nationwide, 95,000 Americans died from COVID-19 in January alone. More than 440,000 people have died because of the virus in the U.S. to date, according to the Associated Press. In Indiana, more than 9,600 people have died from COVID-19.
The country also continues to face repercussions from pandemic closures that resulted in struggling businesses, layoffs and other economic problems. Responding to the struggle, Republicans in Congress and the Biden administration quickly proposed two plans to get more money from the federal government to people in need—with notable differences between them.
Indiana Sen. Todd Young joined nine other Republican senators Monday night to defend their plan in a two-hour conversation with the president, Young said in a press call Tuesday. The Republican plan Young is promoting would spend less than the administration’s proposed $1.9 trillion package in a move the Republicans say will promote more targeted spending after trillions have been spent on COVID-19 relief so far.
The Biden administration’s package would continue supporting unemployment payments with an extra $400 per week from the federal government, give money to schools as they reopen—something the president has called a priority in his first 100 days—and raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour. It includes $350 billion for direct aid to state and local governments.
The Republican plan, meanwhile, includes $160 billion for COVID-19 vaccines, treatment and personal protective equipment, and it would likely pay less than the $1,400 direct checks to Americans proposed in the Biden administration’s package. Republicans would also continue $300 federal unemployment payments through at least June to help people get back on their feet and give $50 billion to businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program. Another combined $40 million would go toward reopening schools and helping parents with child care.
The Republican plan also departs from the Biden plan in that it would restrict spending money directly on state and local governments, something Young said needs to be watched to ensure aid doesn’t go to states with a history of wasteful spending.
The last federal stimulus package in response to the pandemic was signed by former President Donald Trump in late December, totaling around $900 billion in aid. It sent $400 checks to many Americans—critiqued by then-President Trump and many Democrats for being too low a payment—and set aside money for housing assistance, unemployment programs and more.
Young said he’s been motivated by Biden’s calls for unity in his campaign and inaugural address, something Young believes the country sorely needs after the deadly Capitol insurrection Jan. 6 and to help those who are struggling. But he also said unity won’t come without bipartisan compromise, which has been challenged by some of the policies in the Biden administration’s relief plan.
“I don’t know whether in the end we’ll come to an agreement,” Young said. “I do pledge to continue to work with the Biden administration, just as I did with the Trump administration.”
Young added that some of the policies in the package, including raising the minimum wage and earned income tax credits, just shouldn’t be there. He said there needs to be a separate debate on those points that isn’t tied up with immediate COVID-19 relief.
“These are all important policy issues, but I can’t see that they have much if anything to do with COVID,” Young said. “And inclusion in a COVID package will inhibit our ability to, in a bipartisan way, come behind the COVID package as we’ve done five times in a row and get it out the door.”
A spokesperson for the Biden administration said the president and Vice President Kamala Harris found the early negotiations productive. But while President Biden charted some common ground with the senators, disagreements remain about where to go next.
“He reiterated, however, that he will not slow down work on this urgent crisis response and will not settle for a package that fails to meet the moment,” a White House spokesperson said in a statement.
Erica Irish is the 2021 Russell Pulliam student editor for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.