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Republicans try to trim down next round of Covid relief, checks to Americans

Customers sit for coffee at the Market on Front in downtown Missoula. If they get their way, a group of 10 Republicans would see individual checks to Americans cut to $1,000 down from the $1,400 that the president wants.(Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Republican senators are expected to pitch President Joe Biden a stunted Covid-19 relief proposal at the White House, a day after releasing a letter that says a pared-back bill could garner bipartisan support.

The $618 billion plan outlined by Republicans Monday morning represents just a third of the $1.9 trillion package Biden has sought. With what Republicans call a targeted approach to need, individual checks to families are cut in the GOP plan from $1,400 as outlined by Biden to $1,000.

That pointed approach restricts who can receive checks. Single Americans with a salary of $40,000 begin to be phased out from receiving stimulus checks with a $50,000 annual salary cap for recipients. The income cap under Biden’s plan is $75,000 a year.

Couples who file joint taxes would not see the maximum stimulus check beginning at an $80,000 annual joint salary, with $100,000 as the joint salary cap to receive any benefit.

The income cap under Biden’s plan is $75,000 a year for single people or families up to $150,000.

Now the minority party in the House and the Senate, it is unclear whether the Republican plan will get liftoff. Both plans include $500 for dependent adults and children, but the Republicans want to cancel the $600 to convicted inmates.

The Republican proposal does not outline the dollar increment by which payments will be reduced after individuals are determined to have hit the annual salary ceiling to receive funds. In the December round of funding, $600 payments were reduced at $5 per $100 of additional income starting at $75,000 a year for individuals.

The group of 10 Republican senators — including Susan Collins of Maine, Mitt Romney of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Shelly Moore Capito of West Virginia and retiring lawmaker Rob Portman of Ohio — released a statement Monday touting their shared goals with the administration.

“Mr. President, we recognize your calls for unity and want to work in good faith with your administration to meet the health, economic and societal challenges of the Covid crisis,” the group said.

Commonality was also a theme of a Sunday night letter from the group to the president, with the group noting that both plans include $160 billion to bolster vaccine distribution and development, and that funds must be used to expand health care professionals’ ability to test, trace and treat patients. 

The plan released by Republicans Monday morning outlines a “massive expansion of testing,” pouring $50 billion into identifying virus around the country. Their proposal earmarks another $15 billion for rebuilding the National Strategic Stockpile equipment inventory.

Republicans also agree that $4 billion is needed to fortify behavioral health and substance abuse services across the country. Republicans want direct economic relief “for those Americans with the greatest need,” they wrote, calling it key to provide “more targeted assistance than in the administration’s plan.”

The group would include a bump for those receiving federal unemployment benefits, but the $300-a-week offer is still just half of what families received under last year’s CARES Act relief package. It’s also $100 short of the weekly benefit sought by the administration and is poised to dry up June 30 as opposed to September under Biden’s plan.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki noted Sunday evening that the president had spoken with Collins and invited her and the others behing the letter to “a full exchange of views” at the White House.

“As leading economists have said, the danger now is not in doing too much: it is in doing too little,” Psaki said in a statement. “Americans of both parties are looking to their leaders to meet the moment.”

Biden tweeted Monday that his American Rescue Plan would help the nation dig out of the economic hole it found itself in.

“We’re facing an economic crisis brought on by a public health crisis, and we need urgent action to combat both,” he wrote.