10 GOP senators respond to White House but underscore deep divide on Covid-19 relief package

While both sides praised the nearly two-hour meeting in the Oval Office this week, the deep divergence between Biden’s $1.9 trillion the $618 billion GOP proposal persists. Still the Republican group is using the letter to push for talks to continue.

“We remain committed to working in a bipartisan fashion and hope that you will take into account our views as the legislative process moves forward,” the group, led by Maine Sen. Susan Collins, said in the letter sent Thursday to Biden.

The letter serves serves to underscore just how far apart the White House and the Senate GOP group remain on the policy and marks the first time Republicans have contacted the White House since the meeting. The White House, at Biden’s request, sent memos to the group on Tuesday. Those memos, obtained by CNN, detail a defense of Biden’s proposal on areas like school funding and direct payments

But where the White House laid out details about the importance of the longer-term investments in their proposal, the Republican response goes into detail about the amount of funds from past relief bill that remain unspent and pressed for more detail on the justification on several specific elements of the overall plan.

It is, to a degree, an encapsulation of the difference in approaches taken by the two sides, with Biden and his team repeatedly stressing the need to “act big” and saying the biggest risk is undershooting on the overall spending, not overshooting. The Republican group makes clear in the letter their focus is on a targeted approach.

Biden has said he is willing to go forward without the support of Republicans, using an arcane Senate procedure that would allow Democrats to pass the measure along partisan lines. But he also has said he is willing to make certain concessions if it will earn bipartisan support.

The 10 Senate Republicans, in the letter to Biden, pushed back on the White House memos — and in several areas pressed the administration to justify the scale of their proposal based on the amount of unspent aid currently remaining. The issue is particularly acute on the funding for K-12 schools, where the White House provided a detailed line-item justification for the $130 billion in its proposal.

The GOP group, which proposed $20 billion for schools, said it has “significant questions” about the “size and scope” of what the White House proposal contains due to the amount of money from past packages that remains unspent.

The letter also lays out objections to the income threshold cutoffs for the stimulus checks in the White House proposal, but notes that they are “encouraged” by reports that Democrats are considering tightening the qualification requirements.

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