Biden to push for more coronavirus relief, setting up a battle with GOP

President-elect Joe Biden is already putting pressure on Congress to pass more coronavirus relief early next year, setting the stage for a high profile-battle with GOP lawmakers shortly after he takes office.
December 27, 2020 | 08:54
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US President-elect Joe Biden said the bill is "critical" and "needs to be signed into law now." Photo: AP

Congress passed roughly $900 billion in new assistance after months of haggling as COVID-19 cases climbed, businesses shuttered, cities re-imposed lockdown restrictions and hundreds of thousands of Americans died from the virus.

President Donald Trump has not yet signed the joint $900 billion relief package and government spending bill, saying that the bill doesn't provide enough money in direct payments and includes "wasteful and unnecessary items," despite it largely meeting his administration's budget proposal.

Biden argued on December 26 -- the day unemployment benefits for more than 12 million Americans who lost their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic are set to expire -- that the bill is "critical" and "needs to be signed into law now."

"It is the day after Christmas, and millions of families don't know if they'll be able to make ends meet because of President Donald Trump's refusal to sign an economic relief bill approved by Congress with an overwhelming and bipartisan majority," he said in a statement. "This abdication of responsibility has devastating consequences."

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President Trump has not yet signed the joint $900 billion relief package and government spending bill. Photo: AFP

With the relief package left unsigned by the President, expanded jobless benefits will run out on December 26, government funding will lapse on December 28, a moratorium on evictions will expire next week, federal loans for small businesses won't be revived and direct $600 payments to certain Americans will be delayed, CNN said.

I have said all along, this bill is just a first step — a down payment — on addressing the crisis … we’re in. There’s a lot more work to do. Early next year I will put before the Congress my plans for what comes next,” Biden was cited by The Hill as saying.

Biden’s pledge is being echoed by Democratic leaders who are vowing to work with him to push for more funding once he is sworn in as president on Jan. 20.

We have new hope which springs from the vaccine and from the commitment President-elect Biden has to following science. We are ready for the next step,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) wrote in a letter to Democratic colleagues.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters that he spoke to Biden after the bill passed. He said they agreed the country needs a “bigger, bolder bill” and in “January, February we will start.”

Significant headwinds from Senate Republicans

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President-elect Joe Biden receiving Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine on December 21. Photo: AFP

But Biden is likely to face significant headwinds from Senate Republicans, regardless of which party controls the Senate after the two runoff elections in Georgia on Jan. 5.

If Republicans win one or both Georgia races, they will have 51 or 52 seats in the chamber, meaning Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will control what measures come to the floor for a vote. If Democrats win both seats they’ll be able to force a 50-50 majority, but will still need GOP support in order to pass most legislation.

Top Republicans are warning that while they expect Biden to request more COVID-19 aid, it’s far from guaranteed that Congress will sign off on it.

Nothing’s guaranteed. … I’m confident that you’ll hear from the administration and particularly state and local” governments, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said about the prospect for more relief next year.

Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 GOP senator, said the push for more coronavirus relief could be determined by the outcome of the two Georgia races.

I think the incoming administration is viewing it as something that they can do now and then they can come back at this next year. A lot of this probably depends on what happens in Georgia,” Thune said, asked if he viewed the year-end package as a downpayment.

McConnell was noncommittal when asked during a recent Fox News interview about providing more aid.

"If after the new administration comes in, they want to advocate more, we'll take a look at it based upon conditions in the country," McConnell said.

The fight could come to a head fairly quickly, even as Biden will have to juggle getting his administration up and running while trying to tackle other priorities for his first 100 days in office.

Biden is planning to start making a push for more aid as soon as January or February. Meanwhile, Congress will face a series of so-called relief cliffs as programs authorized under its latest bill begin to phase out. The biggest deadline will be when the 10-week unemployment extension included in the sweeping year-end deal starts to phase out in mid-March. And depending on when they apply, small businesses could start hitting the end of their Paycheck Protection Program loans around the same time.

I think everybody understands that Vice President Biden is going to ask for another bill, so we will have another chance to revisit it probably pretty soon,” Cornyn said about the looming unemployment cliff.

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People wear masks while lining up in front of a grocery store in New York on November 12, 2020. Photo: Xinhua/VNA

According to Washington Post, Biden has consistently said that bolstering the economy will be one of his four top priorities — along with ending the pandemic, addressing climate change and promoting racial justice — suggesting he will put a strong emphasis on new spending. He has been vague about what he would like in a new package, but it would probably include aid to cities and funds to prepare for opening public schools.

Biden declined to take detailed questions from reporters earlier this week after he received his coronavirus vaccination at Christiana Hospital in Newark, Del. But an official on Biden’s transition, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak publicly, said the president-elect wants additional money for “supporting the covid response effort, reopening schools and helping families, businesses, and state and local governments.”/.

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