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.