WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republicans in the U.S. Congress on Wednesday signaled a willingness to work with President Joe Biden on additional money to combat the coronavirus pandemic, though several voiced opposition to his proposed program’s $1.9 trillion price tag.
U.S. presidents normally enjoy a “honeymoon” period with the electorate and Congress and try to notch big accomplishments in their first 100 days in office. A top Biden priority is legislation to address the pandemic that has killed 400,000 Americans and taken a heavy toll on the economy.
“In my first act as President, I would like to ask you to join me in a moment of silent prayer to remember all those we lost this past year to the pandemic,” Democrat Biden said in his speech after being sworn in on Wednesday, without repeating his $1.9 trillion request.
Democrats control Congress by razor-thin margins, and will need Republican support in the Senate to pass the program. But several Republicans said they were worried about the price tag.
Senator Lisa Murkowski told reporters after Biden’s inauguration that she agreed that pandemic relief, beyond the approximately $4 trillion already enacted, should be at the top of Washington’s agenda. But given that Congress just one month ago approved about $900 billion of that total, “It’s going to require I think a fair amount of debate and consideration.”
Senator Mitt Romney, a Republican who had been a frequent critic of Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump, also was hesitant.
“We just passed a program with over $900 billion in it,” Romney told reporters at the Capitol. “I’m not looking for a new program in the immediate future.”
Representative Tom Reed said he was open to parts of the proposal.
“One of the things I think could really get people together is vaccine distribution which is part of the $1.9 trillion,” Reed said. “So maybe we start there.”
Biden is asking Congress for $415 billion to bolster the response to the virus and the roll out of COVID-19 vaccines.
Reed added that another round of government economic stimulus payments to individuals could attract bipartisan support, although at a level below the $2,000 Biden wants. Reed suggested $1,400 as a target number.
(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Scott Malone and Grant McCool)