Sanders Says Bipartisanship Can Step Aside for COVID Relief for Families

In response to a new, trimmed down COVID-19 stimulus proposal by Republicans, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) said that passing a substantial relief bill takes precedence over bipartisanship on the bill.

“The issue is not bipartisanship or not. The issue is, are we going to address the incredible set of crises and the pain and the anxiety which is in this country?” Sanders told ABC’s Martha Raddatz on Sunday. “If Republicans want to work with us, they have better ideas on how to address those crises, that’s great. But to be honest with you, I have not yet heard that.”

Highlighting food insecurity, the pandemic and the looming eviction crisis, Sanders said that, “we all want bipartisanship and I think you’re gonna see more of it as we move down the pike,” but that urgently needed relief takes precedence.

Republicans’ latest stimulus proposal offers dramatically less relief. On Sunday morning, 10 GOP senators released a shrunken version of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus proposal, the latter of which many Democrats have rallied behind. The Republican proposal cuts the minimum wage raise and reduces the size and eligibility of the direct relief checks.

The senators, led by Susan Collins (R-Maine), sent Biden a letter asking for “bipartisanship and unity” on the stimulus. In their $600 billion proposal — less than a third of Biden’s — they nix the $15 minimum wage increase, cut the relief checks to $1,000 down from $1,400, and reduce the salary eligibility for the checks down from the Democrats’ proposal of $75,000 to $50,000 for individuals and from $150,000 to $100,000 for couples.

Republicans argue that reducing eligibility is more beneficial to the economy. “Our money goes to that income level where we know it will stimulate the economy,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana), one of the letter’s signatories.

Critics have pointed out that the GOP’s argument isn’t sound. “If the argument is that the relief is better targeted, then why reduce that relief?” writes The Washington Post’s James Downie. “The only reason to offer less is that Republicans think struggling Americans need less.” Economists have said that Biden’s plan would significantly stimulate the economy.

The GOP’s proposal also offers less unemployment relief. Biden’s bill provides $400 through September; the Republicans propose cutting it down to $300 through June. The Post reports that the group plans to meet with Biden on Monday to discuss bipartisanship on the stimulus.

Congress has squabbled over eligibility requirements for the checks in recent months. Biden has signaled openness to raising the salary cap, but Republicans have opposed the checks entirely, saying that they’re going to people who don’t need them. Lowering the cap from $75,000 to $50,000 cuts out a large swath of the middle class — in some places like California and New York, $50,000 is considered low income.

Moderate Democrats like Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) also stood with Republican colleagues in opposition to $2,000 checks. However, as Sanders pointed out, the party won the Senate partially because the new Democratic senators from Georgia ran in support of more generous direct payments. Most Democrats have stood behind Biden’s stimulus proposal.

Regardless of bipartisanship, Democrats can use budget reconciliation to pass the stimulus with their congressional majority. Both Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer have indicated support for this procedure, saying that it’s fine if Republicans want to work with Democrats, but that the priority is to pass the stimulus, and to do it fast.