Biden previews COVID-19 proposal ‘in the trillions of dollars’
President-elect Joe Biden on Friday previewed a COVID-19 relief bill that he said would be “in the trillions,” setting the stage the first major legislative battle of his presidency.
“As I’ve said before, the bipartisan COVID relief package passed in December is an important step, but just a downpayment,” Biden said in a speech announcing new Cabinet nominees.
“Next week, I will be laying out the groundwork for the next COVID economic relief package that meets this critical moment for our economy and country,” he added.
Biden outlined several provisions of the bill, which appear to line up with some of his campaign promises on coronavirus relief.
Among them was “billions of dollars” to improve the vaccine rollout, extending unemployment benefits set to expire in March and April, action on housing and sending out $2,000 stimulus checks.
Biden criticized the size of the direct payments from the $900 billion relief bill passed last month, saying $600 “is simply not enough when you have to choose between paying rent or putting food on the table and keeping the lights on.”
Biden said his relief package would also focus on investments regarding infrastructure and health care.
“The price tag will be high,” Biden said, but argued that investing in the economy now would pay off, and even help keep the debt under control.
“If we don’t act now, things are going to get much worse, and it’ll be harder to get out of the hole later,” he added.
The cost is likely to spark massive GOP opposition. Senate Republicans have raised concerns about the deficit in their push to keep COVID-19 relief spending on in the hundreds of billions of dollars, whereas Democrats have backed spending that’s north of $3 trillion.
But having won control of the Senate, Democrats can attempt to pass a package through budget reconciliation, a process that would allow them to pass legislation with a simple majority, effectively sidelining GOP objections.
But the process includes severe limitations, and may not allow Democrats to advance key parts of their legislative and economic agenda.
It also requires unanimity among all 50 members of the Senate Democratic caucus, and few defections among Democrats in the House, where the party also holds a slim majority.
That may lead to some infighting. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) raised doubts about the viability of $2,000 checks this week.
“Absolutely not,” the moderate Democrat told The Washington Post on Friday when asked if he would support new checks for that amount. He went on to clarify that any additional direct payments should be targeted, but that he wouldn’t rule out more checks altogether.
The Blue Dog Democrat coalition in the House could also balk at the price tag, though members have signaled support for some deficit spending during a time of crisis, despite their usually hawkish fiscal approach.
Biden on Friday made his position clear.
“We should be investing in deficit spending in order to generate economic growth,” he said.