President-elect Joe Biden may see whatever coronavirus relief package that emerges from Congress as a "down payment," but Republicans in the Senate have been signaling strongly this may be all Biden gets to help ease the economic fallout from the pandemic.
The package is certainly large by historic standards -- expected to be about $900 billion. But some economists think it needs to be about four to five times larger.
That's why Biden and Democratic leaders have said repeatedly over the last several months that they want much more, and will regard this round as just a step towards a more robust effort.
But Republicans made clear Thursday that they think they Congress is baking the whole enchilada now, not cooking up an appetizer.
"I don't see it that way, but I know that's how they're talking about it," said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, referring to Biden's "down payment" comments.
"I think the the incoming administration is viewing it as something that they can do now and then they can come back at this next year," Thune added. "A lot of it probably depends on what happens in Georgia. But even there, you know, it's gonna take 60 to do anything in the Senate."
Considering the GOP position on stimulus now, it would be all but impossible to get 60 votes for any new recovery spending, even if Democrats win the two Senate contests in Georgia's upcoming runoff election there. Circumstances would have to be dire indeed, and Thune was already predicting they would not be.
"If we address the critical needs right now, and things improve next year, the vaccine gets out there, and the economy starts to pick up again, there maybe less of a need," he said.
That's not the only way Republicans were working to take economic stimulus tools out of Biden's recovery tool box.
Another effort is one led by Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey to permanently end the emergency lending authorities granted to the Federal Reserve and Treasury Secretary in the CARES Act passed in March.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin already angered many Democrats by returning to the Treasury more than $400 billion of the $500 billion Congress gave him for emergency lending aimed at keeping credit markets from locking up.
Republicans said the money had to be given back by the end of the year under the law, though Democrats and experts pointed to a 2026 return date also written in the law.
The Biden administration could jump through some hoops to get the money back if it thinks banks and lending could be at risk, but Toomey and other Republicans are trying to attach legislation in the COVID relief package that would make that possible only through a new act of Congress.
"It would end these programs exactly as the statute was intended to do. And it would preclude the replication of them," Toomey told reporters. "So you wouldn't be able to just create a carbon copy and call it a new one, and call it a different thing. It's designed to bring an end to these programs."
He added that his legislation would essentially preclude the Democrats' interpretation of the law that sees the emergency lending power as potentially being available for five more years. "It was always intended to go away, and what we're going to do is make sure that nobody can choose to interpret the statute in a different way," Toomey said, making clear he did not want the next administration to able to use the emergency measures.