Lawmakers discuss details of national virus aid recovery package
BATON ROUGE - A number of capital area residents who are 70 years of age and older are headed to the Council on Aging to receive their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday (Feb. 2).
Also known as The Lotus Center, employees of the 1701 Main Street building are working hard to ensure vaccinations are carried out safely. Their efforts have not gone unnoticed by locals, some noting that the center's vaccination process is being carried out in an organized fashion, with minimal problems.
Al Jones, an 81-year-old Baton Rouge native who is scheduled to receive his second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Lotus Center on Tuesday, described his first inoculation at the COA as a relatively painless experience.
Jones told WBRZ, "There was maybe a fifteen, twenty-minute wait and then it went fine. After the shot I sat there in the area for about fifteen minutes as required to see if there was any reaction."
Jones, a graduate of the 1958 class of McKinley High School, noted that some of his peers are hesitant to be inoculated. Though he understands such concerns, Jones reiterated that his vaccination experience has not been unpleasant.
In fact, his symptoms were surprisingly mild.
"It felt like I had drunk a half glass of wine. I felt something, but it wasn't terrible," Jones recounted.
While the COA's local vaccination effort appears to be taking place seamlessly, in Washington D.C. efforts to combat novel coronavirus and its economic impact are anything but seamless.
According to the Associated Press, President Joe Biden did not reach a compromise with Republican senators during Monday's two-hour meeting on national virus relief.
The president said he’s unwilling to settle on what he considers to be an insufficient coronavirus aid package after republican lawmakers pitched their slimmed down $618 billion proposal that’s a fraction of the $1.9 trillion Mr. Biden wants.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that while there were areas of agreement, “the president also reiterated his view that Congress must respond boldly and urgently, and noted many areas which the Republican senators’ proposal does not address.”
She said, “He will not slow down work on this urgent crisis response, and will not settle for a package that fails to meet the moment.”
The Associated Press notes that the two sides are far apart, with the Republican group of 10 senators focused primarily on the health care crisis and smaller $1,000 direct aid to Americans, and Biden leading Democrats toward a more sweeping rescue package to shore up households, local governments and a partly shuttered economy.
The aim is to have COVID-19 relief approved by March, when extra unemployment assistance and other pandemic aid expires, testing the ability of the new administration and Congress to deliver, with political risks for all sides from failure.
Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine called the meeting a “frank and very useful” conversation, noting that the president also filled in some details on his proposal.
“All of us are concerned about struggling families, teetering small businesses and an overwhelmed health care system,” said Collins, flanked by other senators outside the White House.
Republicans are tapping into bipartisan urgency to improve the nation’s vaccine distribution and expand virus testing with $160 billion in aid. Though this is similar to what Biden has proposed, it's pretty much the only thing the two plans share in common.
The GOP’s $1,000 direct payments would go to fewer households than the $1,400 Biden has proposed, and it would offer only a fraction of what the president wants so as to reopen schools.
The Republican's plan would not supply funding to states, money that Democrats argue is just as important, with $350 billion in Biden’s plan to keep police, fire and other workers on the job. Their plan also nixes the gradual lifting of the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.
According to the Associated Press, wary Democrats pushed ahead at the Capitol, unwilling to take too much time in courting GOP support that may not materialize or in delivering too meager a package that they believe doesn’t address the scope of the nation’s health crisis and economic problems.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer warned that history is filled with “the costs of small thinking.”
House and Senate Democrats released a separate budget resolution Monday a step toward approving Biden’s package with a reconciliation process that wouldn’t depend on Republican support for passage.
“The cost of inaction is high and growing, and the time for decisive action is now,” Schumer and Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.
The Associated Press reports that accelerating talks came as the Congressional Budget Office delivered mixed economic forecasts Monday with robust growth expected at a 4.5% annual rate but employment rates not to return to pre-pandemic levels for several years.
The overture from the coalition of 10 GOP senators, mostly centrists, was in hopes of showing that at least some in the Republican ranks want to work with Biden’s new administration, rather than simply operating as the opposition in the minority in Congress.
When asked if Biden had shown a willingness to reduce his $1.9 trillion top line, Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, said, “He didn’t say that, nor did we say we’re willing to come up” from the GOP plan. He said it’s “too early” to say if a deal can be reached.
An invitation to the GOP senators to meet with Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris at the White House came hours after the lawmakers sent Biden a letter on Sunday urging him to negotiate rather than try to ram through his relief package solely on Democratic votes, the Associated Press reports.
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