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Cassidy not optimistic about bipartisan COVID relief bill

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WASHINGTON - Despite a two-hour meeting with Sen. Bill Cassidy and nine other members of the GOP, the White House says the price of President Biden’s COVID relief package has remained unchanged.

“The size of the package was determined not for shock value but to address the dual crises that we’re facing,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.

The group says the $1.9 trillion plan is unreasonable, wants to cut the price down by two thirds to $618 billion.

“It’s not fair to the American taxpayer, not fair to the future American taxpayer. And you have to recognize, if you spend a lot of money here, there’s less money available for other priorities down the road,” Cassidy said in a conference call Tuesday.

Beside the price point, the plans are vastly different.

The GOP plan calls for smaller stimulus checks for fewer Americans, a smaller and shorter extension of unemployment, and no direct aid for states and cities. But there are key similarities, including $50 billion for small businesses and $160 billion for vaccine distribution and development.

“The Republican plan is the same as the president's plan. Here's $160 billion, can we make it better — number one," said Senator Cassidy, who's not optimistic negotiations will work in the end. "Number two, other areas in which we accepted the president's number: mental health. He wanted four million for nutrition supplements, we matched that.”

Cassidy said he's unsure a deal will ultimately get done due to lawmaker trying to fight unrelated legislation into the COVID relief bill. 

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