President Biden on Friday vowed to press forward quickly on his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package with or without Republican support, saying he doesn’t have the “conscience” to pursue a narrower package.
“I’m going to act fast,” Mr. Biden said. “I’d like to be doing it with the support of Republicans … but they’re just not willing to go as far as I think we have to go.”
Mr. Biden framed the legislative push in moral terms, saying he can’t “in good conscience” go along with a smaller bill.
“What Republicans have proposed is either to do nothing or not enough,” the president said.
Mr. Biden spoke after the Labor Department reported earlier Friday that the economy added 49,000 jobs in January, which was a significant slowdown from December.
The overall jobless rate declined to 6.3% from 6.7% in December.
Mr. Biden is trying to get his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package through Congress as quickly as possible.
He said he’s not budging on the size of the direct payments of up to $1,400 per person that are part of the package but that the payments should be targeted so wealthier households aren’t eligible to get checks.
The White House and a group of 10 Senate Republicans have also been exchanging ideas. The Republican group offered an approximately $600 billion plan as their ante.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said after Mr. Biden spoke that the president isn’t slamming the door shut on negotiations with the Republicans.
“We still keep the door open to seek ideas to make the package stronger from any Republican, or other Democrats who want to bring them forward,” Ms. Psaki told reporters.
Republicans say that any package should be more narrowly targeted, pointing out that lawmakers still don’t have a full grasp of how the trillions of dollars Congress authorized last year are affecting the economy.
The GOP senators question Mr. Biden‘s decision to include a minimum wage hike to $15-per-hour in his plan, saying the move would slam struggling small businesses.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said after a meeting at the White House Friday she wants the House to send a package to the Senate within the next two weeks.
Democrats in the U.S. Senate powered a budget resolution through the chamber on a party-line vote early Friday.
The House was expected to sign off on the Senate plan later Friday, which will allow Democrats to pass an economic package without Republican support.
Sen. Joe Manchin, West Virginia Democrat, said this week that Mr. Biden’s advisers led the president astray by moving forward on a partisan path this early in his term.
“We should have found something that we could have voted on bipartisan first and then gone down this lane when we hit a roadblock,” Mr. Manchin said at an event hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center. “And they didn’t do that.”
Mr. Manchin said lawmakers could strike a trillion-dollar, bipartisan deal “tonight.”
The president and his economic advisers say the risks of not doing enough outweigh concerns that the package is too expensive.
Larry Summers, who was a top economic adviser in the Obama White House during the post-2008 recovery, said in a new op-ed that Mr. Biden’s proposal is so big that it could overheat the economy and create problems with inflation.
Mr. Biden said Friday that the roughly $800 billion package he helped oversee as vice president in 2009 wasn’t big enough.
“It stemmed the crisis, but the recovery could have been faster and even bigger,” the president said.
Republicans are pointing to Mr. Summers’ comments as evidence that lawmakers might want to pump the brakes.
“When even Larry Summers is saying the $1.9 trillion stimulus is too large, we all should be worried,” Mick Mulvaney, the past acting chief of staff to former President Trump, said on Twitter.
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