Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King are part of a coalition of centrist senators aiming to influence legislation as the Biden administration begins, and one of the group’s priorities is to shape the proposed COVID-19 relief package.

Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, are heading up the group, called the Common Sense Coalition or the Gang of 16.

They are expected to meet with Brian Deese, the National Economic Council director for the Biden administration, late Sunday afternoon to discuss the $1.9 trillion bill. Many gang members worked to break the logjam on a $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill that became law in December.

Collins, in a statement to the Press Herald on Friday, said that “any new COVID relief package must be focused on the public health and economic crisis at hand.”

“Provisions that are unrelated to COVID-19 should be considered and debated separately,” Collins said in the statement. “I look forward to hearing more about the administration’s specific proposals to assist with vaccine distribution, help keep our families and communities safe, and combat this virus so our country can return to normal.”

Biden’s COVID-19 relief bill includes many components, such as $1,400 checks to individuals, state and local government funding, COVID-19 testing and vaccine distribution, an extension of unemployment benefits, rent relief, paid family leave, nutrition programs and a $15 per hour national minimum wage.

King said in a statement that “when it comes to (Biden’s) $1.9 trillion proposal, I’m optimistic we’ll get close to that number.”

“I think there will be negotiation, but I’m hopeful we will be able to get 60 votes,” King said. “I think most people on both sides of the aisle realize the job isn’t done with regard to COVID, that there’s more work necessary in terms of assistance to states and localities, vaccine distribution. Support for individuals.”

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, another member of the Gang of 16, said in a CNBC article that the “ink is just barely dry on the $900 billion” that Congress passed in December.

“It’s going to require, I think, a fair amount of debate and consideration,” Murkowski said.

Beyond the COVID-19 relief, the Common Sense Coalition could have an impact on other bills pushed by the Biden administration, said Brian Duff, a political science professor at the University of New England. While the Democrats control the House, the Senate is split 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking ties.

“These ‘gangs’ come and go. The spirit of creating these bipartisan gangs is healthy and it has occasionally worked,” Duff said. “On certain policies they may make a real difference, and on other policies they may not matter at all.”

Senate “gangs” have formed on a number of issues over the past 15 years, including judicial nominations, health care, national debt and immigration, with varying success.

Duff said the gangs may shift on some issues. For instance, a green infrastructure bill may be more enticing to Collins because Maine has built up its green energy industry, but less attractive to Manchin and Murkowski, whose states rely more on fossil fuel industries.

Another dynamic, Duff said, is the personal relationship between Biden and senators, as he served alongside many of them for decades.

Collins said in a statement that she has a “long-standing relationship with (President Biden) and have worked well with him on many issues over the years while he was a senator and vice president.”

“The American people are eager for results, and I look forward to working closely with (Biden) to advance bipartisan solutions to the myriad challenges facing our nation,” Collins said.

Other Republican members of the group include Todd Young of Indiana; Mitt Romney of Utah; Rob Portman of Ohio; Jerry Moran of Kansas; Shelly Moore Capito of West Virginia and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana. In addition to King, an independent who caucuses with the party, Democrats include Manchin, Mark Warner of Virginia; Dick Durbin of Illinois; Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassen of New Hampshire, John Hickenlooper of Colorado and Mark Kelly of Arizona.

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