Good morning from Augusta. Welcome to February. Here’s your soundtrack.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “The pandemic was the trigger for moving earlier,” said Anna-Marie Montague, who moved from northern Virginia to Maine last fall, part of a trend of people from other states moving here and working remotely. “Maine was on our shortlist as we had made a trip in the summer of 2019 and really liked it.”
What we’re watching today
Ten Republicans led by Maine’s senior senator have a White House meeting to discuss coronavirus relief. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, spearheaded an effort to put together a $618 billion coronavirus relief package as an alternative to President Joe Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion bill. Biden and Collins spoke over the weekend, and the Democratic president invited the 10 Republicans for a White House meeting Monday afternoon to discuss the issue.
Biden may not need a compromise. Democrats have narrow majorities in the House and Senate and could circumvent the filibuster by passing coronavirus relief through the budget reconciliation process without needing a Republican — if all Democrats are on board.
Collins and her Republican colleagues would rather Biden include them in negotiations, and their proposal is evidence that there are enough Republican votes in the Senate to pass coronavirus relief through the normal legislative process. But there is a significant gap between their vision and that of the Democratic president.
The big question is whether the Republicans’ framework represents a starting point for negotiations or reflects a maximum they are willing to spend. Collins’ office released a full outline of the plan on Monday. There might be a middle ground between the two proposals on issues such as stimulus checks, where Collins and her colleagues propose $1,000 rather than Biden’s $1,400. Their suggested checks are also more narrowly targeted toward low-income people, with checks for individuals capped at $50,000 in annual income.
But the Republican proposal entirely leaves out aid for state and local governments, a key priority for Democrats. Collins has generally been one of the few Republicans to favor state and local aid — it being excluded from a framework that she led on suggests that it could be tough to find 10 Republican votes if Biden and Democrats keep that aid in the final bill.
Biden’s willingness to meet with Senate Republicans does not preclude Democrats from proceeding with their own plan. In a statement announcing the meeting, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki called the Democratic president’s proposed relief bill “badly needed.”
The ultimate power may not lie with Biden or Collins, but with a handful of moderate Democrats. Any member of the Senate Democratic caucus — most likely U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia — could refuse to vote for a bill through budget reconciliation, forcing Biden to find a compromise. But Democrats could also opt to advance stimulus without Republican support.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Augusta hospital offered early COVID-19 vaccines to donors and retired staff,” Michael Shepherd, Bangor Daily News: “MaineGeneral billed the effort as part of a clinic to come on Monday to test its processes before appointments for the general public begin on Wednesday, saying everyone in a test group of 40 people scheduled for Monday vaccines is age 70 or older, meeting recently expanded state guidelines for vaccination. It opened vaccine registration to the public on Friday, prompting 400,000 calls on that one day alone, according to the Kennebec Journal.”
The episode is similar to others across the country that have gained negative attention. The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention fielded one complaint about the MaineGeneral situation, according to spokesperson Robert Long, who said the agency reminded the health provider of the state’s commitment to equity. Last week, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee criticized a Seattle-area hospital system for an email to donors and board members saying they could get the vaccine if they were otherwise eligible under state rules.
— “Late census throws Maine redistricting into chaos,” Jessica Piper, BDN: “The agency said this week that its release of the number of U.S. representatives each state will get, originally scheduled for late December, will not happen until the end of April. Maine is assured to have two U.S. representatives again, so the timing of that data is less of a concern here. But more detailed data needed for redistricting, originally set to be released at the end of March, will not be available until July 30 at the earliest, the agency said.”
— “Somerset County hands over officer discipline records after denying their existence last year,” Josh Keefe, BDN: “About a quarter of Somerset County Sheriff’s Office discipline records over the last five years do not describe why officers were punished, obscuring the misconduct of those entrusted with maintaining the county’s safety. The Bangor Daily News obtained the records last week after Somerset County officials denied their existence last year.”
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Jessica Piper, Caitlin Andrews and Michael Shepherd. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, you can sign up to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning here.
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