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After a 2-hour meeting between President Biden and GOP Senators, still no deal on COVID relief bill

A group of 10 Republican Senators met with President Biden at the White House this afternoon to talk about the next round of COVID relief. Republicans want a package in the range of $600 billion while Biden and Democrats are calling for roughly triple that amount. The meeting lasted about 2 hours and at the end of it there’s still no agreement:

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who is leading the group, called it “a frank and very useful discussion” in brief remarks at the White House.

“It was a very good exchange of views. I wouldn’t say we came together on a package tonight. No one expected that,” Collins said. “But what we did agree to do is follow up and talk further.”

The other members of the group are Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Rob Portman of Ohio, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Todd Young of Indiana, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Mike Rounds of South Dakota, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Mitt Romney of Utah.

It’s not clear they made progress toward an agreement.

While the White House and Republicans Senators were trying to work out a deal, Speaker Pelosi and Chuck Schumer were threatening to move ahead without any GOP support:

Ahead of the meeting, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) filed a joint budget resolution that they said will pave the way for “the landmark Biden-Harris coronavirus package,” declaring that “the time for decisive action is now.”

Speaking to CNN yesterday, Sen Portman pointed out that there had been five previous COVID relief bills all of which had bipartisan support. So starting off the Biden administration with a bill passed via reconciliation with no Republican support or input would not be in keeping with the promise of unity Biden spoke about during the inauguration. As Portman said, “If you can’t find bipartisanship on COVID-19, I don’t know where you can find it.”

NBC News points out there’s another potential problem for Democrats if they pursue this via reconciliation:

Under the Pay-As-You-Go Act of 2010, known as PAYGO, new laws that raise the national debt automatically trigger offsetting cuts in some safety net programs.

The cuts can be avoided, budget experts say, only with 60 Senate votes — leaving Democrats back where they started, because it’s unclear whether Republicans would vote to prevent the cuts after having opposed a partisan relief package…

“The cuts would be huge,” said Paul Van de Water, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal think tank. “It’s a critical issue, which, at some point, is going to have to be dealt with.”

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who will shepherd the reconciliation process and has been a supporter of expanding safety net programs, will work to prevent the cuts, said his spokesman, Keane Bhatt.

The piece notes that the last time reconciliation was used for GOP tax cuts, it necessitated $25 billion in cuts to Medicare. Those cuts were only avoided because Democrats and Republicans agreed to prevent the cuts from taking effect. So in this case, Democrats can ram through their $1.9 trillion package but they won’t be able to stop the subsequent Medicare cuts without GOP help.

As always, there is the question of who would be blamed and the fact that the media will not hold Democrats accountable for using reconciliation right out of the gate but will (unfairly) blame the GOP for not saving Medicare from Democrats’ own actions. It’s a big advantage to have the media on your side and as always the Democrats will have it.

Here’s Sen. Collins brief statement about the White House meeting. She reiterated Sen. Portman’s point that the Senate has passed five previous COVID relief packages on a bipartisan basis: