NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - When President Joe Biden, a Democrat, sat down with nearly a dozen Republican U.S. Senators, Louisiana’s Bill Cassidy was in the room. Sen. Cassidy commented to Louisiana reporters on the meeting the day after.
“Our goal was not to reach a deal. It was to speak to the president regarding the rationale for his plan, the rationale for ours,” said Cassidy.
Biden wants Congress to pass a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package.
The 10 senators who met with him say the cost of the package should be reduced to $618 billion.
And Cassidy said there are areas where Republicans and Biden agree.
“He picked a number of $160 billion for the whole vaccination project. We agreed with that and allocated the same amount of money to promote immunizations,” said Cassidy. “Mental health, he wanted $4 or $5 billion for behavioral health and opioid addictions, we matched that.”
Louisiana’s Health Department chief Dr. Courtney Phillips testified before a congressional committee on the pandemic and vaccines.
Phillips was asked whether Louisiana was holding back some vials of vaccine to be administered as the required second dose.
“Yes, we do make sure we allot the second doses wherever the first doses went to ensure that we have an adequate supply for when those individuals are present,” Phillips replied.
Cassidy says not having enough vaccines allocated to states could be the reality for a while.
“We know we need more vaccine but that is a constraint of manufacturing. I’m not sure putting more money toward that is going to speed it up. I say that because I’m told that the machines used to make the vaccine take six months to build,” said Cassidy.
On sending more direct aid to Americans, Biden proposes $1,400 checks for people earning less than $ 75,000 a year while Cassidy and the group of Republicans he is a part of say the amount should be $1,000 for those earning less than $40,000.
Cassidy says previously, COVID-related checks have gone to people who do not need the money.
“One of my colleagues said he, as a senator, received a stimulus check. Now frankly, I don’t think senators should be getting stimulus checks. He agreed with us there needs to be more focus as to where the money goes,” said Cassidy.
Biden also wants to increase the weekly federal stipend to the unemployed by $100 a week. Republicans like Cassidy disagree with that proposal.
“He wants $400 and we gave $300 and we phase out in June. Why? Because the congressional budget office says they expect employment to be back to pre-COVID levels by June,” said Cassidy.
Biden’s proposal for COVID relief for schools is $170 billion, billions more than what Republicans suggest. But in Louisiana, some earlier COVID-related allocations for schools have not yet been spent.
“We’ve given you about two and half times you spent that which is necessary, and you still have some left over. That said, we still put $20 billion in our package because maybe the president knows something we don’t,” said Cassidy.
While Cassidy believes a bipartisan COVID-relief package is needed, he said he does not know if they can get it done because some liberal Democrats want things not related to the pandemic.
“The Bernie Sanders of the world, they want to jam it, they want to jam it with so much stuff that is unrelated to COVID and they see this as their vehicle,” he said.
GOP Republicans’ proposal also does not include money for state and local governments. Cassidy said while revenues are down for Louisiana’s government and the city of New Orleans, some other states are doing well, so getting more money for states could be a hard sell.
“Local aid is easier to get political support for and that’s what we’re looking at. Is there a mechanism by which we can help those cities and small towns that have been affected? It’s getting harder and harder to make the case for states just from a fiscal standpoint,” said Cassidy.
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