Ten Republican senators are set to meet with President Biden on Monday to push a much smaller alternative to his $1.9 trillion stimulus bill to address the toll of the pandemic, including scaling back another round of direct payments from the government.
The coalition of mostly centrist Republican senators, led by Susan Collins of Maine, on Monday outlined their $618 billion plan, which they are billing as a way for Mr. Biden to pass a pandemic aid bill with bipartisan support and make good on his inauguration pledge to unite the country. With 10 Republicans on board joining the Senate’s 50 Democrats, a bipartisan bill could overcome the chamber’s 60-vote filibuster rule. But Democrats have shown little enthusiasm for a measure that amounts to less than one third of what the president says is needed to confront the public health and economic crisis.
Still, after receiving a letter from the senators on Sunday requesting a meeting, Mr. Biden called Ms. Collins and invited her and the other signers to the White House, where they are scheduled to meet Monday evening. He also spoke with Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader.
The Republicans’ proposal is likely to be met with resistance from congressional Democrats, who are preparing this week to begin laying the groundwork for passing Mr. Biden’s plan through a process known as budget reconciliation, which would allow it to bypass a filibuster and pass solely with Democratic votes.
The Republican proposal would include $160 billion for vaccine distribution and development, coronavirus testing and the production of personal protective equipment; $20 billion toward helping schools reopen; more relief for small businesses; and additional aid to individuals. The package would also extend enhanced unemployment benefits of $300 a week — currently slated to lapse in March — until June 30.
“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,” wrote the Republican group, which includes Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Mitt Romney of Utah.
The measure omits a federal minimum wage increase Mr. Biden included in his plan. It would also whittle down his proposal to send $1,400 checks to many Americans, and limit it to lower-income earners.
The proposal calls for checks of up to $1,000 for individuals making $50,000 a year or less and families with a combined income of up to $100,000, with individuals earning less than $40,000 — and families earning less than $80,000 — receiving the full amount. Previous rounds of direct payments were targeted to Americans earning less than $99,000 annually, with those earning less than $75,000 receiving the full amount.
“Let’s focus on those who are struggling,” Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio and a member of the group, said Sunday on the CNN program “State of the Union.”
Mr. Biden and Democrats have said they want to work with Republicans, but will press ahead without them if they cannot win agreement on a robust response.
“His first responsibility as president is to help take care of the families who need it,” Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, said of Mr. Biden on Sunday, telling CNN that he should move ahead with his full plan if Republicans would not agree.
Congress approved more than $4 trillion through a series of bills last year to address the coronavirus crisis and its economic fallout. Most recently, in December, lawmakers passed a $900 billion stimulus plan that included $600 direct checks to many Americans.
That package sprang from a compromise forged by many of the same centrist Republicans who are to meet with Mr. Biden on Monday, who joined moderate Democrats to force their leaders to the negotiating table to find common ground.
Ten Republican senators asked President Biden on Sunday to drastically scale back his $1.9 trillion pandemic aid bill, offering a $600 billion alternative that they said could pass quickly with bipartisan support.
But their proposal met a tepid reception from Democrats, who are preparing this week to move forward with their own sweeping package — even if it means eventually cutting Republicans out of the process. Haunted by what they see as their miscalculations in 2009, the last time they controlled the government and faced an economic crisis, the White House and top Democrats are determined to move quickly this time on their stimulus plan, and reluctant to pare it back or make significant changes that would dilute it with no certainty of bringing Republicans on board.
“The dangers of undershooting our response are far greater than overshooting,” said Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the new majority leader. “We should have learned the lesson of 2008 and 2009, when Congress was too timid and constrained in its response to the financial crisis.”
Their strategy can be traced to 12 years ago, when Barack Obama became president, Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, and they tackled both an economic rescue package and a sweeping health care overhaul.
In retrospect, in the quest to win Republican backing for both, Democrats say, they settled for too small an economic stimulus and extended talks on the health care measure for too long.
That view was driving the party’s unenthusiastic response on Sunday to the new offer from the Senate Republicans who asked for a meeting with Mr. Biden to lay out a substantially smaller stimulus proposal. In a letter, the 10 senators — notably enough to defeat a filibuster — said their priorities aligned with Mr. Biden’s on crucial areas such as vaccine distribution.
While talks with Republicans are expected to continue, Democrats are set this week to put in motion a budget process known as reconciliation that is not subject to a filibuster, allowing them to push through pandemic legislation on their own if no bipartisan agreement emerges.
Mr. Biden would no doubt prefer to push his proposal through with bipartisan support to show he is able to bridge the differences between the two parties. But the White House has been adamant that it will not chop up his plan to try to secure Republican backing and that while the scope could be adjusted, the changes will not be too substantial.
“We have learned from past crises that the risk is not doing too much,” Mr. Biden, who was vice president in 2009, said on Friday at the White House, striking the same theme as Mr. Schumer. “The risk is not doing enough.”
Emily Cochrane, Luke Broadwater and Alan Rappeport contributed reporting.
Among President Biden’s most specific foreign policy promises was a pledge to convene a global democracy summit during his first year in office. The gathering would be intended to take a public stand against the authoritarian and populist tides that rose during the presidency of Donald J. Trump and, as Mr. Biden and his advisers see it, threaten to swamp Western political values.
In the weeks since Mr. Biden’s election, however, America’s own democracy has been staggering. In January, a mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol and disrupted the hallowed peaceful transfer of power. Next week, the Senate will begin its second presidential impeachment trial of Mr. Trump in a year. Republicans in Congress are poised to impose legislative gridlock by obstructing Mr. Biden’s every move.
The sense of a dysfunctional, if not entirely broken, democratic system has foreign rivals crowing — and suggesting that the United States has no business lecturing other nations.
“America no longer charts the course and so has lost all right to set it,” Konstantin Kosachev, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the upper house of Russia’s Parliament, wrote on Facebook after the Capitol riot. “And, even more so, to impose it on others.”
Administration officials say that neither opportunistic commentary from foreign rivals nor recent expressions of good-faith skepticism from foreign policy analysts at home has tempered the plan Mr. Biden promised as a candidate: convening a “summit for democracy” where like-minded leaders could discuss ways to strengthen their own systems and protect them from threats like corruption, election security breaches, disinformation and authoritarian models.
A person familiar with the summit planning, which has been underway since before the election, said Mr. Biden was undeterred by the recent political strife in the United States and was likely to act as the host at an event with fellow heads of state, although details like the timing and location have not been determined. Others familiar with the process said they expected an event near the end of the year. A White House official did not respond to a request for comment.
In Washington, however, a debate over the idea — and whether to postpone the plan — has broken out among former United States government officials and academics. It narrowly concerns plans for the summit but involves larger anxieties about the country’s role as a global leader in the post-Trump era.
“The United States has lost credibility; there’s no question about that,” said James Goldgeier, a professor of international relations at American University and a former National Security Council aide in the Clinton administration. “If you have total gridlock on Capitol Hill and you don’t have the ability to get things done to improve people’s lives, you’re not going to command a lot of moral authority.”
The recent surge in GameStop’s stock — propelled by individual investors who banded together on Reddit — has put new pressure on the Biden administration’s pick for the top job at the Securities and Exchange Commission, Gary Gensler.
Mr. Gensler would inherit the agency as it faces calls to more tightly regulate online trading programs such as Robinhood that critics say enable unsophisticated investors to make risky financial bets, Deborah B. Solomon reports in The New York Times. But defenders of such platforms say they help flatten out inequities in the financial markets that have long favored deep-pocketed firms over average people. The S.E.C. said it was “closely monitoring” the situation in a statement.
“What’s going on with GameStop has almost nothing to do with GameStop as a company,” said Barbara Roper, director of investor protection for the Consumer Federation of America. “When you see the markets essentially turned into a video game or turned into a casino, that actually has some pretty serious repercussions for the way we use the markets to fund our economy.”
The question for Mr. Gensler, and the agency, will be what, if anything, they should do about concerns from people like Ms. Roper.
The S.E.C.’s role has traditionally been to ensure that companies disclose enough information for people to make informed investment decisions. But it does so by enforcing laws that were written before the advent of trading platforms such as Robinhood. Mr. Gensler’s first moves, those who know him say, will be investigating the GameStop surge to figure out who benefited, as there is speculation that it may have been fueled by some big funds after all.
New administrations are generally cautious about changing their predecessors’ legal positions. But this time may be different when it comes to repudiating former President Donald J. Trump’s agenda in major cases, including the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act.
In a position that prizes its reputation for credibility, consistency and independence, solicitors general of both parties have said they are wary of veering from positions staked out by their predecessors.
Justice Elena Kagan, who was President Barack Obama’s first solicitor general before joining the court, has said, for instance, that “a change in position is a really big deal that people should hesitate a long time over.”
But a new law review article by Michael R. Dreeben, a longtime deputy solicitor general, presents a dissenting view, concluding that the Biden administration need not fear announcing bold reversals of stances taken by the Trump administration.
“The court will understand that new administrations have new views, particularly coming on the heels of the Trump administration, which in many ways pressed a radical vision of its jurisprudential agenda on the court that a successor administration is entitled to push back on,” Mr. Dreeben, who worked in the office for more than 30 years, said in an interview.
As inches of snow pile up during Washington’s biggest winter storm in two years, there is one place that won’t be seeing any snowball fights.
The Capitol grounds, one of the best spots in the city for sledding, are now off limits, another reverberation of the rampage there on Jan. 6. The city’s schools are all virtual on Monday; schools had been slated to reopen to some students in person but closed because of the weather.
Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia’s nonvoting House delegate, has urged the Capitol Police to allow the tradition to continue this week. The activity could be done safely, Ms. Norton said in a statement on Saturday, “by allowing only children and adults accompanied by children” into the area.
But a Capitol Police spokeswoman, Eva Malecki, citing the current security concerns and the city’s coronavirus restrictions, said it could not be permitted.
While a rule against sledding on the Capitol grounds has been in place for decades, it was rarely enforced until after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
Ms. Norton has pushed for sledding to be allowed on the grounds for years; she first succeeded in slipping a pro-sledding provision into the omnibus spending bill in 2016.
The previous year, Washingtonians held a “snow-in” at the complex to protest the rule.
The ban has been revived at another moment of heightened tensions. Instead of children making snowmen and snow angels, visitors to the Capitol complex these days are greeted by seven-foot-tall, unscalable fencing that went up after the riot.
The acting chief of the Capitol Police, Yogananda D. Pittman, is calling for “vast improvements” to security on the Capitol grounds after the attack, which injured nearly 140 police officers and killed an officer and a member of the mob.
Chief Pittman, who took over the department when her predecessor resigned days after the riot, said that experts had argued for greater security measures for the Capitol even before the Sept. 11 attacks.
But in a trying year, Ms. Norton said, the sledding tradition was one joy that should not be erased.
“Children across America have endured an extremely challenging year,” she said, “and D.C. children in particular have not only endured the coronavirus pandemic but now the militarization of their city, with the hostile symbols of fences and barbed wire. Sledding is a simple, childhood thrill. It is the least we can allow for our resilient children this winter season.”