Biden struggling to get $1.9-billion Covid stimulus package approved

President-elect Joe Biden speaks about the COVID-19 pandemic during an event at The Queen theater, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021, in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

US President Joe Biden warned on Friday of a steep and growing “cost of inaction” on his $1.9-trillion Covid-19 (Coronavirus disease 2019) relief plan as the White House searched for “creative” ways to win public support for a package that is getting a cold shoulder from Senate Republicans.

And at a time of deep polarization, Biden may struggle to convince Republican voters of the urgency when Congress already has approved $4 trillion in aid, including $900 billion last month.

Biden signaled on Friday for the first time that he’s willing to move ahead without Republicans.

“I support passing Covid relief with support from Republicans if we can get it,” he told reporters. “But the Covid relief has to pass. No ifs, ands or buts.”

His message so far has been that a fresh $1.9 trillion in aid would be a bargain compared to the potential damage to the world’s largest economy if it doesn’t pass. An aggressive push for vaccinations and generous aid to individuals would help put parents back to work and let children return to school and improve their lifetime earnings, Biden said at a Friday meeting with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. They met in the Oval Office, where the fireplace was lit to protect against the chill in Washington.

“We have learned from past crises that the risk is not doing too much,” he said. “The risk is not doing enough.”

Only a week into his presidency, Biden is confronting the challenge of selling his first major piece of legislation to a country he has pledged to unite. Private calls with Republican lawmakers have yet to produce any progress on reaching a deal, while Senate Democrats are now preparing to pass the measure strictly on partisan lines as soon as next week.

Some Biden allies have expressed frustration that the administration has not more clearly defined what the massive legislation would actually accomplish. The new president instead has largely focused his first nine days in office on signing executive orders rolling back his predecessor’s policies.

In particular, Biden, for whom the widespread distribution of Covid-19 vaccines will be a defining test, has not explained what the increased money for testing and vaccination would achieve – including how much quicker the White House believes it would help bring about an end to the pandemic.

Biden’s outreach to senators has largely brought criticism that the plan should be more targeted and that the country can afford to wait to see the effects of the stimulus dollars that were approved in December.

Republican lawmakers see a need for speeding vaccinations, but one Senate aide said their offices are not being bombarded with calls for an additional aid package. Constituents are more focused on the looming impeachment trial, said the aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

This has left the Biden team trying to expand its outreach beyond Capitol Hill.


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