Biden tells House Dems he's “flexible” on some numbers in relief bill

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President Biden told House Democrats in a phone call Wednesday he’s still committed to pursuing a large COVID relief package even as Senate Republicans are pushing him for a much smaller, more targeted relief bill, but he also expressed a willingness to negotiate.

“You have my back, I’ll have yours,” the president said, according to sources on the call.  

Mr. Biden met with Republican senators on Monday to hear their proposal for a $600 COVID relief package, roughly a third of the size of the $1.9 trillion package the White House crafted. While the two plans have similar dollar figures allocated for a national vaccination program, testing, and disaster relief, the administration wants to spend more on unemployment insurance, stimulus checks, and aid to state and local governments, among other things.  

Mr. Biden did not mention the GOP’s plan during his call Wednesday, sources on the call told CBS News. He expressed a willingness to be flexible about some of the numbers but believes his plan meets the country’s current needs. 

“The biggest danger isn’t that we go too big, it’s that we go too small,” he said, according to people on the call. 

One number that the president told Democrats he would insist on: $1,400 direct relief checks, to supplement the $600 that people received following a smaller stimulus bill in December. However, he also suggested he would be open to targeting the aid to ensure it reaches people who most need the help.

“We made a promise to the people and I’m not going to start off my presidency by breaking a promise,” he said, according to sources on the call. 

Senate Democrats will meet with the president at the White House later Wednesday. The president’s efforts to rally his party come after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters Tuesday that Mr. Biden “seemed to be more interested in [the GOP proposal] than his staff did, or than it seems like the Democratic leadership in the House and the Senate are.” 

The House and Senate have both passed initial procedural hurdles to pass a budget resolution for the fiscal year that would allow them to pass the president’s COVID relief package through budget reconciliation, which would allow Democrats to pass the proposal with fewer or no Republican votes and avoid a filibuster. 

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