President Joe Biden said that he will go for a large-scale Covid-19 relief bill rather than trying for a slimmed down version that could win Republican support.
“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 in a speech from the White House on Friday. “I am going to help the American people who are hurting now.”
Biden has proposed a $1.9 trillion package that includes funding for vaccine distribution and Covid-19 testing, among other money directed to healthcare. It also would provide an additional $1,400 in direct payment checks to the $600 outlay that was passed in December. Unemployment benefits would be extended from March to the end of September, while other funds would be available for small business relief, health insurance and child care and paid leave. Biden also said that it would include raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, but that aspect of the legislation appears to be sidelined for now. The Senate approved a voice vote on Thursday to bar such an increase during the pandemic.
Biden earlier this week held a meeting with a group of Senate Republicans, led by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), who have proposed a much smaller plan, at about $618 billion. Collins left the two-hour meeting calling it a “very good exchange of views.”
Biden, however, said that “there are some fine people who want to get something done, but they are just not willing to go as far as I think we have to go.”
He said that the size was insufficient, and he pointed to what happened when he served as Barack Obama’s vice president in 2009. Then, as the economy was in a free fall, Biden negotiated to win the support of three Senate Republicans, but the side of the $831 billion package, but “it wasn’t quite big enough. It stemmed the crisis, but the recovery could have been faster and bigger,” Biden said. “Today we need an answer that meets the challenge of this crisis.”
Early on Friday morning, the Senate voted 51-50 to start the process of reconciliation, a legislative maneuver that would allow Democrats to get the Covid-19 relief package through Congress without Republican support. That is because such a process would allow for passage in the Senate with just 51 votes, not the 60 to overcome a filibuster.
Biden did criticize Republicans for some of the arguments against such a large package, after supporting some of President Donald Trump’s spending proposals when he was president. “All of the sudden, many of them discovered fiscal restraint and concern about the deficit,” Biden said.