Democrats prep Biden's virus aid package with or without GOP

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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of N.Y., left, speaks during a news conference next to Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

WASHINGTON – Senate Democrats are preparing to push ahead quickly on President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package even if it means using procedural tools to pass the legislation on their own, leaving Republicans behind.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told senators to be ready to vote as soon as next week on a budget reconciliation package that would lay the groundwork for swift passage. Coming so soon in Biden's administration, the action provides a first test of Republican opposition to the White House priorities as well as to the new president's promise of a “unity” agenda.

“The work must move forward, preferably with our Republican colleagues, but without them if we must," Schumer said after a private meeting of Democratic senators.

"Time is of the essence to address this crisis. We're keeping all options open on the table.”

Unwilling to wait for Republicans who argue Biden's price tag is too high and his priorities too wide-ranging, Democrats are flexing their newfound power as they take control of the Senate alongside the House and White House.

It is the first time in a decade the party has held the full sweep of power in Washington, and Democrats say they have no time to waste trying to broker compromises with Republicans that may, or may not, happen. They have watched Republicans use similar procedural tools to advance their priorities, most recently the Trump administration’s GOP tax cuts.

The fast-moving events days into the new majority on Capitol Hill come as the White House continued meeting privately with groups of Republican and Democratic lawmakers in hopes of striking a bipartisan agreement. Biden's COVID-19 aid package includes money for vaccine distribution, school reopenings and $1,400 direct payments to households and gradually boosts the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour over five years.

The next steps remain highly fluid.