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Joe Biden made a big push for “unity” during his inaugural address, but he is finding it a little harder to achieve than he thought. Of course, he hasn’t really tried anything “unifying,” so that may be one reason Republicans are balking at his proposed $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill.
“I support passing COVID relief with support from Republicans if we can get it,” he told reporters. “But the COVID relief has to pass. No ifs, ands or buts.”
This almost certainly means that Democrats will use the reconciliation process to get the bill passed.
His message so far has been that a fresh $1.9 trillion in aid would be a bargain compared to the potential damage to the world’s largest economy if it doesn’t pass. An aggressive push for vaccinations and generous aid to individuals would help put parents back to work and let children return to school and improve their lifetime earnings, Biden said at a Friday meeting with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. They met in the Oval Office, where the fireplace was lit to protect against the chill in Washington.
“We have learned from past crises that the risk is not doing too much,” he said. “The risk is not doing enough.”
Congress has already approved $4 trillion in pandemic assistance. In fact, there’s still money left to spend from the CARES Act passed by Congress last spring — $300 billion as of last September. The $900 billion aid bill Congress passed at Christmas has barely had a chance to have any effect at all.
Many Republicans are making the argument that it’s impossible to gauge how much money is needed if previous monies haven’t even been spent. While there are some obvious needs for individuals who are unemployed, for vaccine distribution, and for more small business loans, $1.9 trillion may be unnecessary.
The risk Biden speaks of isn’t doing too much or too little. It’s doing too dumb.
Some Biden allies have expressed frustration that the administration has not more clearly defined what the massive legislation would actually accomplish. The new president instead has largely focused his first nine days in office on signing executive orders rolling back his predecessor’s policies.
In particular, Biden, for whom the widespread distribution of coronavirus vaccines will be a defining test, has not explained what the increased money for testing and vaccination would achieve — including how much quicker the White House believes it would help bring about an end to the pandemic.
Congress isn’t supposed to work like that — even in a public health emergency. The awful truth is, Biden doesn’t know himself what the money will be spent on and he is asking Republicans to take a shot in the dark. He’s asking Republicans to trust him.
That’s not going to happen. Republicans are pointing out the non-COVID-related items in the bill, including the $15 minimum wage. To claim that the situation is so bad Congress has to pass a bill without knowing what’s in it while sticking non-emergency provisions in the legislation will not gain Biden much trust.
The Democrats’ effort to maintain a crisis atmosphere in the country is failing. Autocratic blue state governors are under enormous pressure to reopen their states for business and even Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York has relented some and will allow restaurants to open for in-house dining. Chicago may actually start in-person instruction in schools next week. The crisis is ending and Biden’s attempt to justify “crisis” spending is falling flat with Republicans.
Farewell, unity! It was nice while it lasted.