WASHINGTON — Saying he’s determined to end the suffering of Americans struggling during the pandemic, President Joe Biden on Friday made it clear he plans to press on with his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package with or without Republican support.
What You Need To Know
- President Joe Biden on Friday made it clear he plans to press on with his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package with or without Republican support
- Biden’s 12-minute speech came hours after a marathon session in which the Senate passed a budget resolution clearing the way for the stimulus bill to be passed using the “budget reconciliation” process
- Biden outlined the key points of his budget, which includes $160 million for a national vaccination strategy and $1,400 direct payments
- He criticized Republican who have proposed to "do nothing or not enough"
In a 12-minute address from the White House's State Dining Room, Biden said: “I’m going to act, and I’m going to act fast,” adding Republicans are “not willing to go as far as I think we have to go.”
“If I have to choose between getting help right now to Americans who are hurting so badly and getting bogged down in a lengthy negotiation, or compromising on a bill that’s up to the crisis, that’s an easy choice,” Biden said. “I’m going to help the people who are hurting now."
Biden’s speech came hours after a marathon session in which the Senate passed a budget resolution clearing the way for the stimulus bill to be passed using the “budget reconciliation” process. That process requires a simple majority vote rather than needing a filibuster-proof 60 votes in the Senate.
The House passed the resolution later Friday. The Democratic-led chamber had already approved it earlier in the week, but because it was amended it required another vote.
Biden outlined the key points of his budget, including $160 million for a national vaccination strategy, $1,400 direct payments, extending enhanced unemployment benefits through the end of September, and funding to help the hungry, small businesses, state and local governments, and schools to safely open.
Biden also mentioned raising the federal minimum wage. The Senate approved an amendment 99-1 seeking to remove the increase to $15 an hour, although the measure is not binding.
“It’s big and it’s bold, and it’s a real answer to the crisis we’re in,” Biden said of his proposal.
Biden criticized Republicans for seeking to slash the size of package. Earlier this week, he met with 10 GOP Senators who pitched their own roughly $600 billion plan, about a third of what he is seeking.
“What Republicans have proposed is either to do nothing or not enough,” Biden said. “All of a sudden, many of them have rediscovered fiscal restraint and the concerns for the deficits. But don’t kid yourself: This approach will come with a cost. More pain for more people for longer than it has to be.”
The president expressed some regret about the $800 billion recovery aid package that he, as vice president, and former President Barack Obama pushed for in 2009 during the Great Recession.
“It wasn’t quite big enough,” Biden said. “It stemmed the crisis, but the recovery could have been faster and even bigger. Today, we need an answer that meets the challenge of this crisis, not one that falls short.”
“Are we going to pass a big enough package to vaccinate people, to get people back to work, to alleviate the suffering in this country this year? That’s what I want to do,” he added. “Or are we going to say to millions of Americans who are out of work, many of whom have been out of work for six months or longer, who have been scarred by this economic and public health crisis, ‘Don’t worry, hang on, things are going to get better. We’re going to go smaller, so it’s just going to take us a lot longer. Like until 2025.’ That’s the Republican answer. I can’t in good conscience do that.”
The 2025 date was in reference to a report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that said it would take until 2025 for the U.S. to reach full employment unless Congress takes action.
Soon after the president delivered his address, members of the press gathered to question White House officials on the path forward for the relief bill.
Jared Bernstein, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, offered a full-throated defense of the American Rescue Plan, calling it a “package that is calibrated to meet the urgency of the moment.”
“The idea now is that we have to hit back hard, and we have to hit back strong if we’re going to get the dual crises of the pandemic and the economic pain that it has engendered behind us,” he continued. “We’ve constantly argued that the risks of doing too little are far greater than the risk of going big.”
Bernstein also defended Biden’s push for a $15 federal minimum wage, saying it will help "people who are keeping this economy going, but are consistently undercompensated for it," including sanitation workers, retail workers and those in the service industry.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki also addressed questions about the bipartisan nature of Biden’s proposal, with several reporters questioning why the president continues to push for the $1.9 trillion package despite low support from GOP lawmakers.
Biden’s call for unity was not “a promise to unite the Democratic and Republican Party into one party in Washington,” Psaki said Friday, noting that he instead hopes to unite the American public — a vast majority of which have expressed support for Biden’s rescue plan, Psaki said, citing polls.
“We’re not going to sit here and wait for an ongoing negotiation where frankly we haven’t received an offer in return, a response offer, to what the president has proposed, because the American people need relief now,” she added.