President-elect Joe Biden on Thursday unveiled a whopping $1.9 trillion economic recovery plan for digging out of the coronavirus-fueled economic downturn that he’ll pitch to Congress as one of his first acts as commander in chief.
The big-spending bailout, which he’s calling the American Rescue Plan, proposes $1,400 checks for most Americans, an extension of the eviction and foreclosure moratorium until September and a national vaccination program as local distribution rates continue to fall short.
“The crisis of deep human suffering is in plain sight. There’s no time to waste. We have to act and we have to act now,” Biden said in a speech from Wilmington, Del., on Thursday evening in which he called for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to help him pass his ambitious plan.
“This is what economists are telling us. More importantly, it is what the values we hold dear in our hearts as Americans are telling us. A growing chorus of top economists agree that in this moment of crisis with interest rates at historic lows, we cannot afford inaction,” he continued, touting the enormous bailout as a “smart fiscal investment” in the nation’s future.
Despite Biden’s hard sell, Republicans in Congress who vociferously opposed a similar $2.2 trillion bailout pushed by House Democrats in October are likely to raise objections to his package, too.
The bill will be the most pressing piece of legislation on Biden’s agenda as he takes office amid a worsening pandemic that has so far killed 386,000 Americans and infected 23.2 million.
President-elect Joe Biden announced a $1.9 trillion economic recovery plan, called the American Rescue Plan Jan 14.Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images
It follows on the heels of a $900 billion bailout Congress passed just last month after months of inaction caused by partisanship.
That bill included a $300 weekly unemployment supplement, $284.4 billion in forgivable small-business Paycheck Protection Program loans and $600 stimulus checks for most Americans.
In his speech, Biden said that package was not enough.
“We will finish the job of getting a total of $2,000 in cash relief to people who need it the most. The $600 already appropriated is simply not enough. You shouldn’t have to choose between paying rent and putting food on the table,” he said.
The balance of power in the Senate will shift later this month when two Georgia Democrats are sworn in for a 50-50 split with Republicans and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris breaking any tie. But Biden will still need the support of some Republicans to avoid a filibuster through cloture, which requires a 60-vote majority.
If his package is to become law, it’s likely to require some compromise from Biden’s initial grandiose spending plan to win over at least some of the more conservative Senators, worried about the ballooning national debt.
Biden’s $1.9 billion plan will deal with two pressing issues: the nation’s faltering economy and lagging vaccine distribution efforts. But it also includes broad liberal promises to “invest in racial justice” and “intergenerational inequities.”
The incoming administration notably attached no price tag to those plans.
Provisions in the plan include $1,400 direct payments to eligible Americans, in addition to the $600 passed by Congress in December. The Biden administration is describing this as a “down payment” which will take total relief payments to $2,000, something that at least one Senate Democrat has balked at.
On Thursday evening, Biden acknowledged the high price tag of his deal and said, “I know what I just described does not come cheaply but a failure to do so will cost us dearly.”
Sen. Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat who is expected to be a key swing vote, has already opposed efforts to eliminate the legislative filibuster, and said he is against such high-dollar checks going to all Americans, preferring more income-targeted payouts.
“That’s not a yes or no question,” the West Virginia lawmaker said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “I’m on board by helping people that need help, people that really can’t make it, people that don’t have a job — they can’t put food on the table.”
“Sending checks to people who basically already have a check and aren’t going to be able to spend it or not going to spend it and usually put it in their savings account right now. That’s not who we are,” Manchin said. “We have done an awful lot of that.”
Biden has also earmarked $20 billion for a national vaccine program which will include community vaccination centers and mobile vaccination units to inoculate hard-to-reach communities.
All people in the United States, regardless of their immigration status, will receive the miracle jab for free, the plan says.
Biden said the current vaccine rollout had been a “dismal failure.” As of Wednesday morning, 30.6 million doses of the miracle drug have been distributed around the country, but only 11.1 million Americans had received their first jab.
The former veep doubled-down on his commitment to deliver 100 million shots in his first 100 days as president, describing it as “one of the most challenging operational efforts, we have ever undertaken as a nation.”
The rescue package also includes $130 billion to help the nation’s shuttered schools safely reopen by reducing class sizes, improving ventilation, and hiring more janitors. Included in the bailout is also a push to increase the federal minimum wage to $15, one of Biden’s campaign promises.
“People tell me that’s going to be hard to pass. Florida just passed it. As divided as that state is, they just passed it!” Biden said, slamming his hands on his lectern for emphasis.
“The rest of the country is ready to move as well. There should be a national minimum wage of $15 an hour. No one working 40 hours a week should live below the poverty line,” he went on.
The rescue package also includes $130 billion to help the nation’s shuttered schools safety reopen by reducing class sizes, improving ventilation, and hiring more janitors.
The economy is still in a downward trend and last week’s job report showed conditions are actually worsening.
The US shed 140,000 jobs in December, while another 965,000 Americans filed for unemployment last week.
However, the earliest days of Biden’s presidency could be consumed by President Trump’s impeachment trial, which McConnell said Wednesday could not begin until after Trump’s term has ended.
Adding to the maelstrom is the fact that many of Biden’s political appointees will need to undergo the Senate confirmation process, meaning lawmakers could be torn in three equally pressing directions.
On Thursday evening, Biden warned that even with his deep-pocketed plans for recovery, it would take time for the nation to find its feet and called for the nation to come together after a tumultuous start to 2021 which included the second impeachment of President Trump on Wednesday.
“There will be stumbles, but I will always be honest with you about both the progress we’re making and what setbacks we meet,” Biden said.
“Out of all the peril of this moment, I want you to know, I give you my word, I see the promise. I remain so optimistic about America, as optimistic as I’ve been,” he said. “Come Wednesday, we begin a new chapter.”