President-elect Joe Biden on Monday called for a new stimulus package to help the United States recover from the damage caused by coronavirus pandemic.
Biden renewed his plea for more aid following a meeting with business and labour leaders to lay out his plans for the world’s largest economy.
The type of massive stimulus spending only Washington lawmakers can approve is regarded as key in getting the US back on its feet after the mass layoffs and sharp downturn in growth caused by Covid-19, but Republicans and Democrats have been unable to agree on a new package.
Biden, a Democrat who triumphed over Republican President Donald Trump in elections earlier this month, called for Congress to back a $2.2 trillion measure approved by the Democrat-led House of Representatives.
“It has all the money and capacity to take care of each of those things now. Not tomorrow, now,” Biden said in a speech in his hometown Wilmington, Delaware, the state he represented for three decades in the Senate.
But Republicans in the Senate have refused to support a measure anywhere near that large, preferring to pass smaller bills targeted at specific needs, which Democratic leaders have rejected.
Congress in March approved the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, which included a program of loans and grants to aid small businesses as well as expanded payments to the workers who lost their jobs.
Those programs were seen as crucial in helping sectors like retail sales recover from the downturn, but they expired over the summer, raising fears of a renewed slump in economic activity.
“This is about keeping Americans afloat. Get them through this pandemic, get them through where they still — their businesses are able to come back,” Biden said. “The money is there.”
Two runoff elections in Georgia set for early January will decide if Democrats can take control of the Senate and give the party unified control of Congress, but Biden called for Republicans to overcome their opposition to a spending package in the weeks before the new Congress is seated.
“There ought to be at least a dozen of them have the courage to stand up and save lives and jobs now. We should be doing it now,” he said.
– Unprecedented transition –
Trump’s refusal to concede the election result, which is unprecedented in modern US history, is complicating Biden’s planning.
The president has launched a flurry of long-shot lawsuits against the election results in key states and prevented his officials from working with Biden’s transition team.
Responding to a question from a reporter, Biden, a former vice president, warned “more people may die” of coronavirus if the administration refuses to coordinate with the incoming team, particularly on distributing potential vaccines.
Biden has found easier recognition of his victory outside Washington politics, meeting virtually on Monday with heads of major American companies like Mary Barra of General Motors and Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, as well as Richard Trumka, president of the AFP-CIO trade union federation.
The president-elect outlined his economic program, pledging his support for unions and for raising the national minimum wage to $15 per hour, and invest $300 million into making the US competitive in emerging technologies, “creating three million good-paying jobs.”
He also repeated his plan to alter the US tax structure.
“We’re going to have a fair tax structure that makes sure the wealthiest among us and corporations pay their fair share,” Biden said.
The president-elect spoke as the United States faces an increasingly grim outlook for the coming winter months as Covid-19 infections hit levels unseen since the pandemic took off in March.
“We’re going into a very dark winter,” Biden said.
He said he agreed with union and corporate leaders that the world’s largest coronavirus outbreak could be stemmed by “rallying the country behind a national strategy with robust public health measures, like mandatory masking.”