The new Commander in Chief is now doubling as the Salesman in Chief, pitching his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan to the American public as Democrats move closer to passing it with or without Republican support.
"These are things like money for reopening schools, money to fund mass vaccination programs, money to spend on unemployment insurance to middle class families all across Raleigh-Durham and across the country," TJ Ducklo, White House Deputy Press Secretary, said in an exclusive interview. "These are things that make a difference to people in their lives. The time for bold action is now."
Last week, more than 120 economists and policymakers signed a letter in support of Biden's "American Rescue Plan," saying the $900 billion that Congress approved in December before he took office was "too little and too late to address the enormity of the deteriorating situation."
Biden proposed $1,400 checks for most Americans, which on top of $600 provided in the most recent COVID-19 bill would bring the total to the $2,000 that Biden has called for. It would also extend a temporary boost in unemployment benefits and a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures through September.
Under Biden's multipronged strategy, about $400 billion would go directly to combating the pandemic, while the rest is focused on economic relief and aid to states and localities. About $20 billion would be allocated for a more disciplined focus on vaccination, on top of about $8 billion already approved by Congress. Biden has called for setting up mass vaccination centers and sending mobile units to hard-to-reach areas.
The plan also provides $50 billion to expand testing, which is seen as key to reopening most schools by the end of the new administration's first 100 days. About $130 billion would be allocated to help schools reopen without risking further contagion.
"This plan will increase the number of vaccinators," Ducklo emphasized. "That's a key component to vaccinate the American public as quickly as possible."
The size of the package has been a concern for several Republican lawmakers and some economists. Larry Summers, a former treasury secretary during the Clinton administration, said in a column for The Washington Post that the $1.9 trillion package was three times larger than the projected economic shortfall. A separate analysis by the Penn Wharton Budget Model found the plan would do little to boost growth relative to its size.
Ten Republican senators, including Thom Tillis of North Carolina, met with President Biden in the Oval Office and proposed spending about one-third of what Biden is seeking in coronavirus aid and urged him to negotiate rather than try to ram through his $1.9 trillion package solely on Democratic votes.
In challenging Biden to fulfill his pledge of unity, the group said in a letter sent Thursday night that there's still time to find common ground.
"We want to help struggling lower- and middle-income families as well as boost the economy; better targeting the direct payments would accomplish both goals," the Senators wrote. "We remain committed to working in a bipartisan fashion and hope that you will take into account our views as the legislative process moves forward."
Tillis on Friday again did not respond to ABC11's repeated requests for an interview.
Congressman David Rouzer, a Republican representing Johnston County, said the general consensus among Republicans is to spend only where it's necessary.
"Another $2 trillion where you're bailing out pension programs and doing a massive $1400 dollar per person payment to everyone, whether or not whey work for amazon or whether or not they've been laid off," Rouzer said. "Why don't we take a deep break here and see how this works and to the degree we're going to have another package, let's make sure it's bipartisan rather than jamming through a partisan package that bails out blue states."
The Senate early Friday narrowly passed a budget resolution enabling the package to move through Congress with just a simple majority instead of 60 votes. Vice President Kamala Harris cast her first tie-breaking vote, and now Democrats in the House later approved the resolution on Friday. Then committees in each chamber can get to work to take the resolution's reconciliation instructions and write relevant bills that will be brought together to create a sweeping package along the lines of what President Joe Biden has proposed.