President-elect Joe Biden is finalizing his coronavirus relief plan, with aides briefing congressional staffers Tuesday and indicating the measure will be tailored to get bipartisan support.
The proposal, which Biden intends to unveil on Thursday, is expected to include $2,000 stimulus payments, an extension of enhanced unemployment insurance, money for vaccine distribution and delivery, funding for cities, states, schools, child care and more.
Transition officials indicated in meetings with Democratic staffers that Biden will try to get bipartisan support for the measure, instead of using a special budgetary tool that could allow him to push legislation through Congress with only Democratic votes, according to several people with knowledge of the discussions who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the deliberations were private.
That’s led to speculation that the price tag of the package could be below $2 trillion – although Biden said last week that it could cost in the multiple trillions of dollars. Republicans are likely to balk at spending too much more after Congress has already devoted around $4 trillion to fighting the ravaging coronavirus pandemic and economic fallout.
Biden has said repeatedly that passing a coronavirus relief and economic stimulus package will be his No. 1 priority upon taking office Jan. 20. Incoming Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., made the same point in a letter to colleagues on Tuesday, describing a relief bill as “our first order of legislative business” once the new Senate is organized and Kamala Harris sworn in as vice president, giving Democrats control of the Chamber.
“The job of covid emergency relief is far from complete. Democrats wanted to do much more in the last bill and promised to do more, if given the opportunity, to increase direct payments to a total of $2,000 – we will get that done,” Schumer wrote. “We will also further support vaccine distribution efforts and help American families, small businesses, schools and state and local governments.”
But even as Biden makes plans to advance his agenda, the House is preparing to impeach President Donald Trump a second time over his incitement of last week’s deadly invasion of the Capitol. It’s unclear when an impeachment trial would take place in the Senate, and how that will impact Biden’s goal of quickly enacting bipartisan legislation.
A spokesperson from Biden’s transition team declined to offer details of the proposed stimulus plan.
Biden said this week that he hoped the issues could be “bifurcated” so that the Senate could simultaneously approve his Cabinet nominees and work on coronavirus economic relief legislation while also moving forward with impeachment. It’s uncertain how well that would work in practice, if that is the path the Senate takes.
Outside interest groups are cautioning that impeachment should not be allowed to draw focus from the work of passing a new economic relief bill.
“The trial cannot be allowed to distract from or delay the critical work of providing economic relief and economic opportunity for the American working people,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said on a press call Tuesday. “We have to confirm a Cabinet and we have to get economic relief to them very very quickly. And I think the Senate and the House are both capable of doing those things simultaneously.”
Biden’s coronavirus relief plan would build on a $900 billion bill Congress negotiated and Trump signed in December. Democrats have repeatedly said that legislation left unfinished business as the virus continues its deadly march through the nation, vaccinations lag and the economy sheds jobs.
Biden ran on his prowess as a bipartisan dealmaker, but given the highly polarized political climate it’s unclear how much bipartisanship there will be in a Senate divided 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans. Some Democrats believe the events of last week at the Capitol may cause some Republicans to want to take a more bipartisan approach, in an effort to create more unity.
At the same time, some Democrats are warning against spending too much time trying to get a bipartisan outcome. President Barack Obama took office with both chambers of Congress controlled by Democrats, and spent months trying unsuccessfully to get GOP support for the Affordable Care Act, before ultimately passing it with only Democratic votes in the Senate.
“It would be good to have Republicans on board, but we should spend not an inordinate amount of time testing Republican willingness to come on board,” said Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii. “It would be excellent if we can get a big bipartisan vote, but if that’s Plan A we’re going to have to move to Plan B pretty quickly if we can’t get the votes.”