President-elect Joe Biden expressed strong urgency to provide federal coronavirus relief and economic stimulus Friday, essentially challenging Congress and President Donald Trump to act immediately and then for Congress to get ready to act again soon.
Biden expressed blanket support for the $900 billion coronavirus relief package that is emerging from negotiations between Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Republicans as critical to keep businesses, schools, local government operations, and hospitals running. He called the current proposal a “down payment.”
He warned that the American economy is set to falter immediately as unemployment benefits and protections for people facing potential evictions and foreclosures are set to expire on Jan. 1, 2021, and that funding will be needed to keep businesses open, to pay for the COVID-19 vaccination program, and to keep nurses, teachers, firefighters, and police employed.
But beyond that he contended that American workers need help too, and need it immediately. He generally noted recent economic reports showing recovery from last spring’s economic collapse has slowed and public and business confidence are faltering.
“If we act now, now I mean, now, we begin to regain momentum,” Biden said.
Biden was referencing the coronavirus package now being hammered out. It largely is a relief package, not the kind of stimulus bill that Biden and Democrats seek. But Biden would not criticize it or say anything that sounded as if he were trying to direct the negotiations, except to say Congress has to focus now on resources for direct public health responses to COVID-19.
“We need meaningful funding for vaccines now, so we don’t lose time with people waiting for months. We need serious funding for testing now. We need to ramp up testing, allow our schools and businesses to operate safely. The sooner we pass funding the sooner we can turn the corner on COVID-19,” he said.
And then he pledged to come back with a new package that would focus more on economic stimulus.
“It’s essential we provide immediate relief for working families and business now, not just to help them get to the other side of this painful crisis, but to avoid a much broader economic cost due to long term unemployment of businesses failing,” Biden said. “By acting now, even with deficit financing, we can add to growth in the near future.”
Biden repeatedly expressed confidence that he could work with Republicans. He specifically said he expects to be able to work with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He insisted he has a long reputation of working with Republicans in respectful ways, even when they disagree on policies, and believes that will make a difference.
He repeatedly declined to suggest any specific proposals he would make for a broader stimulus package, instead outlining goals.
“I’m not going to comment on specific details. The whole purpose of this is, we gotta make sure people aren’t thrown out of their apartments, lose their homes, are able to have unemployment insurance, they are able to continue to feed their economies as we grow back the economy,” he said. “We need to be in a position to provide help to localities so they’re not continuing to lay off school teachers, firefighters, etc., first responders. And to make sure we’re in a position to generate growth.”