MORGANTOWN – Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., was among a group of 10 GOP senators meeting with President Joe Biden Monday to propose an alternative COVID-19 relief package.
Gov. Jim Justice on Monday morning, though, spoke in favor of the more-expensive Biden plan.
The most immediate impact on individuals in the GOP plan is smaller stimulus checks for fewer people. The Biden plan would provide $1,400 checks for individuals earning up to $75,000 ($2,800 for couples earning up to $150,000) and gradually phasing out at incomes above that.
The GOP plan provides $1,000 checks for individuals earning up to $40,000 and phasing downward to a $50,000 income cap, and $2,000 for couples filing jointly earning up to $80,000, and phasing downward to joint incomes of $100,000. Dependent adults and children would get $500 apiece.
Biden has indicated he’s open to negotiation on the stimulus checks.
In a letter to Biden, the senators said, “In the spirit of bipartisanship and unity, we have developed a COVID-19 relief framework that builds on prior COVID assistance laws, all of which passed with bipartisan support. Our proposal reflects many of your stated priorities, and with your support, we believe that this plan could be approved quickly by Congress with bipartisan support.”
Along with Capito, the other signatories are: Susan Collins, R-Maine; Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska; Bill Cassidy, R-La.; Mitt Romney, R-Utah; Rob Portman, R-Ohio; Todd Young, R-Ind.; Jerry Moran, R-Kans; Mike Rounds, R-S.D.; and Thom Tillis, R-N.C.
The senators also told Biden, “Addressing this public health crisis has required robust and rapid support for vaccine development and distribution, testing and tracing, treatment and supplies, including the production and deployment of personal protective equipment. We agree with you that continuing to build our capacity in these areas is crucial to overcoming the pandemic.”
The GOP plan totals $600 billion, compared to the $1.9 trillion Biden plan. Democrats could bypass GOP opposition to the Biden plan by using a process called reconciliation, which allows certain spending bills to pass by a simple majority and prohibits the Senate filibuster process that maintains minority party leverage.
However, not even all Democrats may be on board. Sen. Joe Manchin, R-W.Va., has been vague on the stimulus checks but his office most recently told The Dominion Post, “he still supports targeted relief,” but wouldn’t specify what that means.
The GOP proposal, like Biden’s, includes a total $160 billion for pandemic response, including vaccines, testing and PPE. It includes $130 billion for supplemental unemployment relief through June 30.
It also proposes $20 billion for child care, $20 billion for K-12 schools, $40 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program and $10 billion for Economic Injury Disaster Loans.
Asked about the rival plans during his Monday COVID briefing, Justice came down in support of the Biden plan. “I don’t think America can go wrong being too high,” he said.
He unrolled his thoughts with a long shoe metaphor. “With the number of people in this country that are hurting and are still hurting today we will not be able to fit the shoe perfectly, he said. “If it’s a little bit too big, we’re still walking, aren’t we?”
But if the shoe is too small, he said, our toes are cramped, we’re in pain and can’t walk. It wouldn’t be useful to squeeze a relief package down so small that it leaves people hurting. And a little more national debt relative to what’s already there and considering the need to save the country justifies the spending.
“I am absolutely for helping our people,” he said. “This nation needs a jump start. … I think you go bold.”
Following the more than two-hour meeting with Biden and Vice President Harris, the group released a statement late Monday evening. They said:
“It was an excellent meeting, and we are very appreciative that in his first official meeting in the Oval Office, President Biden chose to spend so much time with us discussing the response to the COVID crisis. We presented our proposal to the president, and we had a very productive exchange of views.
“On five previous occasions,” they said, “Congress has demonstrated that we can come together to deliver COVID-19 relief for the American people. In the coming days, talks among our group, the Biden administration, and other senators will continue as we work in good faith on a sixth bipartisan package to help struggling families, get students back to school, assist our small businesses and their employees, provide relief for health care providers, and accelerate testing and vaccine programs.”
During the meeting, Capito said, she was able to bring up a few topics of special significance to West Virginia in the context of COVID relief. Specifically, she advocated for additional funding for the Provider Relief Fund to include a rural hospital set-aside due to the unique challenges they have faced during the pandemic. Additionally, she shared the need to double down in the fight against opioids in light of the daunting facts that addiction and overdoses have increased since the pandemic began.