Moderate Republican senators are urging US President Joe Biden to significantly downsize his sweeping $US1.9 trillion ($A2.5 trillion) COVID-19 relief package to win bipartisan support.
Biden has responded by inviting the Republicans to the White House this week for talks, spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, even as he continues to seek a comprehensive, large-scale measure.
“With the virus posing a grave threat to the country, and economic conditions grim for so many, the need for action is urgent, and the scale of what must be done is large,” Psaki said in a statement.
Biden spoke to Republican Senator Susan Collins on Sunday, Psaki said, asking her and the others in the group to come to the White House for “a full exchange of views”.
Earlier, a top White House economic adviser signalled willingness to discuss the ideas raised by 10 Republican senators, who on Sunday floated a $US600 billion ($A784 billion) alternative.
But Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council, told NBC’s Meet the Press the Democratic president was not willing to compromise on the need for a wide-ranging bill to address the public health crisis and economic fallout.
Passage of the new relief legislation would not only affect Americans and businesses reeling during a pandemic that has killed about 440,000 people in the United States but offer an early test of Biden’s promise to work to bridge the partisan divide in Washington.
It remained unclear whether the outreach by fewer than a dozen of the 50 Republicans in the 100-seat chamber would shift plans by congressional Democrats to take up legislation in the coming days.
Biden and fellow Democrats are seeking to make use of their control of the House of Representatives and Senate to move quickly on the president’s top goal of addressing the pandemic.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has said his chamber would begin work on it as early as this week.
Biden, who took office on January 20, has proposed $US160 billion ($A209 billion) for vaccines and testing, $US170 billion ($A222 billion) for schools and universities, and funds to give certain Americans a $US1,400 ($A1,830)-per-person stimulus payment, among other provisions.
Some Republicans have questioned the overall price tag, while others urged more targeted measures, particularly over the direct payments to individuals.
Congress enacted $US4 trillion ($A5.2 trillion) in COVID-19 relief last year.
Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney and seven other senators said their bill included more targeted assistance for families in need and additional funds for small businesses, while echoing Biden’s $US160 billion ($A209 billion) for more funding to boost vaccines and testing. They also pointed to unspent money from previous COVID-19 relief bills.
“We’re targeted to the needs of the American people,” Senator Bill Cassidy, one of the 10, told Fox News Sunday .