The administration of United States President Joe Biden said on Friday it was taking “creative steps” to garner broader public support for its $ 1.9 trillion COVID-19 bailout as Attempts to strike a deal with Republicans have raised concerns over delays in coronavirus relief, and Senate Democrats have been preparing to pass the measure in party favor.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden fully recognizes the importance of speaking directly to the American people about his vaccination plan and supporting the economy, but the pandemic has limited his ability to travel safely across the country for support. This left the administration to rely on TV interviews with local media and outreach to local governors and officials as well as progressive and civic groups.
“We’re taking a number of creative steps, a little bit outside the box,” Psaki said. “Certainly his preference would be to take a plane and fly across the country.”
Despite Biden’s calls for unity, Democrats said the stubbornly high unemployment rate and battered U.S. economy left them reluctant to waste time wooing Republican support that might not materialize. They also don’t want to reduce the size and scope of a package that they believe will provide the money they desperately need to distribute vaccines, reopen schools, and send money to American households and businesses. .
Speaking to reporters on Friday from the Oval Office where he was flanked by Vice President Kamala Harris and newly confirmed U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Biden warned that failing to go through a new round of stimulus would hurt millions of Americans who need more generous help. now, and inflict long-term damage to the economy.
“We will also be affected in the long term economically,” said Biden, “the investments will now help the economy grow.”
The deadlock on Biden’s top legislative priority is to turn the new bailout into a political test – of his new administration, democratic control of Congress, and the role of Republicans in a post-Trump political landscape.
The success would give Biden an iconic achievement in his first 100 days in office, freeing up $ 400 billion to expand vaccinations and reopen schools, $ 1,400 in direct payments to households and other priorities, including a gradual increase from the federal minimum wage to $ 15 an hour. Failure would be a high-profile setback early in his presidency.
Biden’s team has largely focused on outreaching lawmakers directly, but that has failed to generate much public pressure that could make Republicans more willing to strike a deal on the administration’s timetable.
A Republican Senate aide said lawmakers’ offices are not bombarded with calls for an additional aid package, saying voters are primarily focused on the impending impeachment trial. The assistant spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.
Democrats in the House and Senate operate as if they know they are on probation. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are laying the groundwork for launching the “go-it-alone” approach next week.
They are drafting a budget reconciliation bill that would kick off the process of passing the back-up plan with a simple senatorial majority of 51 votes – rather than the 60-vote threshold typically needed in the Senate to move legislation forward. The aim would be to pass by March, when unemployment benefits, housing assistance and other assistance will expire.
Schumer said he took inspiration from Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s advice to “go big” to weather the economic crisis of COVID-19.
“Everywhere you look, the alarm bells are ringing,” Schumer said from the Senate.
Senate Republicans from a bipartisan group warned their colleagues in a “frank” conversation Wednesday night that Biden and the Democrats were wrong in loading the aid bill with other priorities and blocking it by Congress without their support, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private session.
Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican and former White House budget manager under George W Bush, wants more in-depth accounting of the remaining funds from December’s $ 900 billion coronavirus aid program.
“Literally, the money didn’t come out,” he said. “I am not sure I understand why there is a serious emergency at this time.”
Biden spoke directly with Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who is, along with Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, leading the bipartisan effort that is rushing to find a compromise.
Collins said she and the Democratic president had a “good conversation.”
“We have both expressed our shared belief that it is possible for the Senate to work in a bipartisan fashion to get things done for the people of this country,” she said.
The emerging debate is strongly reminiscent of the partisan divide over the 2009 financial bailout in the early months of President Barack Obama’s administration, when Biden was vice president, echoing those battles over the appropriate level of government intervention. The difference then was that Obama and Biden could visit the country to rally support, an option that is more difficult in the midst of a pandemic.
On Thursday, more than 120 economists and policymakers signed a letter of support for Biden’s package, claiming that the $ 900 billion Congress approved in December before he took office was “too little and too late to deal with the enormity of the deterioration of the situation ”.
Employers laid off workers in December, retail sales fell, and deaths from COVID-19 continued to rise. More than 430,000 people in the United States have died from the coronavirus.
At the same time, the number of Americans claiming unemployment benefits remained at an all-time high of 847,000 last week, and a new report said the US economy had shrunk 3.5% annually. latest.
“The risks of going too small considerably outweigh the risks of going too big,” said Gene Sperling, a former director of the White House National Economic Council, who signed the letter.
The government reported on Thursday that the economy was showing dangerous signs of stalling over the last three months of last year, ultimately declining 3.5% for all of 2020 – the sharpest slowdown since demobilization which followed the end of World War II.
The drop was not as severe as initially feared, largely because the government directed around $ 4 trillion in aid, an unprecedented emergency expenditure, to keep millions of Americans housed, fed, employed and able to repay debt and build savings in the midst of the crisis.
Republican allies have touted annualized growth of 4% in the last quarter, with economic analyst Stephen Moore calling the gains “astonishing.”
Republicans have also expressed concerns about the growing deficit, which has skyrocketed under the Trump administration.
Wyoming’s Republican Senator John Barrasso, the party’s third-rank leader, said Biden should stick to the call for unity he made in his inaugural address, especially with the Senate evenly divided . “If there ever was a warrant to go through the middle, this is it,” he said. “It’s not just about getting off the cliff.”