President Joe Biden on Friday defended the $1.9 trillion price tag of his coronavirus stimulus bill, challenging opponents, “What would they have me cut?”
Speaking at a Pfizer manufacturing plant in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Biden said the size of the bill matched the size of the need.
“Critics say my plan is too big, that it costs $1.9 trillion,” Biden said. “So that’s too much. Well, let me ask them: What would they have me cut? What would they have me leave out?”
Biden ticked off some of the proposed spending, including $20 billion to vaccinations, $290 billion to extend unemployment insurance, $50 billion for small businesses, $130 billion for schools, and $3 billion for nutrition programs.
“This is the United States of America, for God’s sake,” Biden said. “We invest in people who are in need.”
The legislation also includes stimulus payments of $1,400 for individuals making up to $75,000 and $2,800 for couples making up to $150,000, plus $1,400 for each dependent. The payments phase out for individuals making more than $100,000 and couples making more than $200,000.
As vice president, Biden saw President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats scale back the size of the 2009 stimulus plan in order to attract Republican votes, which Democratic U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez said led to a tepid recovery.
“We will not repeat the mistakes we made a decade ago when we bent over backward to please our GOP colleagues and watered down our stimulus, which subjected people to a longer, drawn-out recovery from the Great Recession,” Menendez said. “This time, we will give President Biden the resources necessary to defeat the pandemic, help suffering families and turn out economy around.”
That’s because the Democrats don’t need Republican votes. They are considering the bill under a process known as reconciliation, which will prevent a Senate filibuster and allow both houses of Congress to pass the bill by majority vote.
That’s the same process that Republicans used to enact their tax law.
The House Budget Committee is the next stop. On Monday, the committee is scheduled to consider the 591-page bill, assembled from the different sections passed by several House committees earlier this month.
The full bill is scheduled for House floor debate and a vote by the end of the weekend.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Friday that his chamber was on track to pass the measure and send the bill to Biden by March 14, when the current extension of unemployment insurance benefits expire.
“If Republicans are ready to work with Democrats on constructive amendments that will improve the bill, we are ready to work,” Schumer said in a letter to Senate Democrats. “However, we must not allow Republican obstructionism to deter us from our mission of delivering help to Americans who desperately need this relief.”
So far, there are no signs of bipartisan support. House Republican Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana urged his conference Friday to oppose the bill.
“It’s clear Democrats have no interest in approaching COVID relief in a timely and targeted fashion and instead are using the reconciliation process to jam through their liberal wish list agenda,” Scalise wrote.
Despite the fact that Republican-run Texas and Florida would be two of the four biggest recipients of federal assistance under the bill, and Pew Charitable Trusts said Florida was one of the three states hardest hit by the pandemic-caused drop in tourism, Scalise called the $350 billion in state and local aid in the legislation a “bailout for blue states.”
Louisiana received $21.1 billion more in 2019 than it paid in federal taxes, according to the State University of New York’s Rockefeller Institute of Government.
Scalise also objected to the $1,400 checks, saying some would go to households with little or no financial losses due to the pandemic.
The House GOP opposition contrasted with the support from the party’s state and local officials, as well as the 37% of Republicans backing the stimulus plan and 64% supporting the $1,400 payments in a Quinnipiac University poll released earlier this month.
Overall, U.S. adults supported the legislation by 68%-24%, and the $1,400 payments by 78%-18%, according to the poll.
“The vast majority of the American people,” Bide said, “want us to act, and act big and quickly and support the plan.”