President Biden announced on Friday for the first time that he is willing to move forward with a Republican-free COVID relief plan.
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden warned Friday of a precipitous and growing “cost of inaction” on his $1.9 trillion COVID relief plan, as the White House looked for “creative” ways to win public support for a package that cold shoulder from Senate Republicans.
In the age of COVID, it’s not as easy as hopping on a plane to travel across the country and trying to trigger a tidal wave. And at a time of deep polarization, Biden may struggle to convince Republican voters of the urgency when Congress has already approved $4 trillion in aid, including $900 billion last month.
Biden first indicated on Friday that he is willing to move forward without Republicans.
“I support the passing of COVID aid with Republican support if we can get it,” he told reporters. “But the COVID aid must pass. No If, and or but.”
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His message so far has been that another $1.9 trillion in aid would be a steal compared to the potential damage to the world’s largest economy if it doesn’t go through. An aggressive push for vaccinations and generous aid to individuals would help get parents back to work and children back 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 cold in Washington.
“We’ve learned from past crises that risk doesn’t do too much,” he said. “The risk doesn’t do enough.”
Just a week into his presidency, Biden faces the challenge of selling his first major piece of legislation to a country he has pledged to unite. Private talks with Republican lawmakers have yet to see any progress in reaching a deal, as Senate Democrats now prepare to push the move strictly on party lines next week.
Some of Biden’s allies have expressed frustration that the government has not defined more clearly what the mass legislation would actually accomplish. Instead, the new president has largely focused his first nine days in office on signing executive orders that reverse the policies of his predecessor.
Notably, Biden, for whom the widespread spread of coronavirus vaccines will be a defining test, has not explained what the increased money for testing and vaccination would bring — including how much faster the White House thinks it would help end the pandemic.
Biden’s contact with senators has largely led to criticism that the plan needs to be more focused and that the country can afford to wait for the effects of the stimulus dollars approved in December.
Republican lawmakers see the need for accelerated vaccinations, but a Senate official said their offices are not being bombarded with calls for an additional aid package. Voters are more focused on the impending impeachment trial, said the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.
Because of this, the Biden team has sought to expand its reach beyond Capitol Hill.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden recognizes the importance of talking directly to the American people about his plan for vaccinations and supporting the economy, but the pandemic has limited his ability to travel safely to gain support. The government relies on TV interviews by White House officials and allies with local media and national shows like “The View,” as well as conversations with governors, local officials, and progressive and civil society groups.
“We’re taking some creative steps, a little off the beaten path,” said Psaki. “Certainly, his preference would be to get on a plane and fly around the country.”
Part of the challenge is that Biden has to convince the public how different parts of his proposal would work together. His plan provides $400 billion to lead a national vaccination program and the reopening of schools. It also includes $1,400 in direct payments to individuals, which critics say should be more targeted. And it includes an increase in the minimum wage to $15 and support for state and local governments, a non-starter for most Republicans.
Many Republicans face more political pressure from donors and activists at home to curb spending than to approve more. In particular, some Republicans object to what many still see as bailouts for cash-strapped state and local governments.
Some support a deal, just not what Biden is offering. sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, a member of a bipartisan group of lawmakers the administration has contacted, said he supports funds for vaccine distribution and even potentially additional jobless benefits, but he wants full accounts of the funding left over from previous help packages .
“Unemployment insurance, they think it’s an emergency, well we have unemployment insurance until mid-March. Where is the need?” Portman said. “Am I against extension, no I am not. I think we should do that, based on a number of economic factors. But it just doesn’t make sense.”
Recent economic reports show that the economy is still under severe pressure, but there is also the potential for the strongest growth in more than two decades once the coronavirus is under control.
The Commerce Department said Thursday that the US economy shrank by 3.5% last year, and on Friday it reported that consumer spending – the main driver of growth – fell 0.2% in December. But the consumer spending report also suggested that expanded unemployment benefits from the $900 billion aid package passed that same month had succeeded in boosting incomes.
Gregory Daco, an economist at Oxford Economics, said: “December’s Covid relief bill was essentially about the past, the dwindling aid at the end of 2020”, Now the government must sell the public what lies ahead.
He said: “The US bailout plan — it’s a forward-looking plan that bridges the gap between January and September, when people can spend more freely.”
When will the 3rd stimulus checks be released?
Americans will have to wait for Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan, or something similar, to be introduced and passed in Congress. However, it is unclear how long that will take.
The US Senate is currently split 50-50, but the Democrats control the chamber because Vice President Kamala Harris is the deciding vote.
The legislation would need 60 votes to pass in the US Senate, so Biden would need the support of at least 10 Republicans and every Democrat to pass. However, the Democrats could use a budgetary tool — known as reconciliation — that would allow the Senate to pass a potential bill with just 51 votes.
During the first round of stimulus checks in April 2020, it took about two weeks for the federal government to start handing out the money. It took about a week for the second round of checks, worth $600, to begin in early January.
Assuming Congress can pass Biden’s relief bill from mid-February to mid-March, Americans could receive the third stimulus checks sometime from late February to late March.
So, in short, a third check won’t come for a month.
Why $1,400 checks and not $2,000?
Biden’s plan required $1,400 checks for most Americans, which, in addition to the $600 provided in the most recent COVID-19 bill, would bring the total to the $2,000 Biden has requested.
What else is in Biden’s $1.9 trillion package?
According to Biden’s multi-track strategy, about $400 billion would go directly to fighting the pandemic, with the rest focused on economic aid and aid to states and localities.
About $20 billion would be allocated for a more disciplined focus on vaccination, on top of the roughly $8 billion already approved by Congress. Biden has called for mass vaccination centers to be set up and mobile units to be sent to hard-to-reach areas.
click here to see the full breakdown of where the funds will be allocated.
Who is eligible for the second stimulus check?
Because the second stimulus check approved by Congress is half the size of the first check, not everyone who got a payment in the spring will get money this time around.
If your reported income in 2019 was $75,000 or less, you would qualify for the full one-time payment of $600 under the current plan. Couples who reported adjusted gross income up to $150,000 would receive $1,200.
If you reported earning more than $75,000, you would receive partial payments that decrease by $5 for every $100 over the income limits.
So, for example, a person who made $86,900 would get $5 under the approved plan of Congress. During the first round of direct money, the money was gradually reduced to $99,000 for a single filer.
If you’re a couple making $174,000 or more, or a householder earning more than $124,500, you won’t get a second stimulus check either.
Why have I not received my stimulus?
There are a number of reasons why you may not have received your $600 stimulus check. First, you may be making too much money to qualify now that it’s a smaller amount than the first round of checks.
If you were expecting a check but still haven’t received it, the IRS ran into some problems in the beginning. Many people who submitted their tax returns to an online preparation service initially discovered that their payment had not arrived directly to them. It is possible that money has been transferred to a temporary bank account set up by the tax preparer, which is no longer active. By law, the financial institution must return payments to closed or inactive accounts.
Since then, a number of tax preparation companies have said they have been able to resolve the issues.
While the IRS continues to make the payments, eligible taxpayers who do not receive payment, or who have received less than they should have, can claim it using the Recovery Rebate Credit when they file their 2020 tax returns.
TEGNA Staff contributed to this report.