Biden set to demand major spending on stimulants and vaccines

WASHINGTON – President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. is expected to present billion-dollar government spending proposals on Thursday to tackle the coronavirus pandemic and its effects on the economy, with an initial focus on large-scale expansion of the country’s immunization programs and virus testing capability.

Mr Biden will detail his plans, which he and his economics team have been honing for weeks, in an evening speech in Delaware. The efforts will cover the pandemic, the economy, healthcare, education, climate change and other national priorities, Brian Deese, the new director of the National Economic Council, told Reuters Next on Wednesday. . Leading Democrats in Congress have said in recent days that they are preparing for efforts to cover two bills.

“Right now, the president-elect believes we need to act aggressively on both rescue and recovery,” Deese said.

America’s rebound from the pandemic recession has reversed, amid a winter wave of the virus and new waves of restrictions on economic activity in cities and states. The Labor Department reported Thursday that 1.15 million Americans filed new unemployment claims in the first full week of the new year, a 25% increase from the previous week. Another 284,000 claims were filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal emergency program for workers such as freelancers who are not normally eligible for unemployment benefits. The country cut 140,000 jobs in December, the ministry reported last week.

With millions of people still struggling, the initial stimulus package Mr Biden will unveil is expected to include money to make direct payments of $ 2,000 to individuals and help for small businesses and local and state governments, said Mr. Deese. Others briefed on Mr Biden’s thinking said he would also demand that the first piece of legislation include an extension of additional federal unemployment benefits, which will expire in March for many workers, and more help for tenants.

Plans for the first package also include a significant increase in spending for vaccine deployment, testing and contact tracing, Mr Deese said, and Mr Biden will seek enough money to allow most schools to ‘open up, in an effort to increase workforce participation.

“We need to open schools,” Deese said, “so that parents, and especially women, who suffer disproportionately in this economy, can return to work.

Transition team officials did not say Wednesday how much Mr. Biden’s proposals were likely to cost or whether he would announce a cost estimate on Thursday. Last week, Mr Biden said he expected his full program to cost “trillions” of dollars.

The second installment proposals are likely to be bigger than the first, and Democrats plan to pay for some or all of them by raising taxes on businesses and the wealthy. The second package is expected to focus on job creation and infrastructure, including spending hundreds of billions of dollars on clean energy projects like electric vehicle charging stations, as well as spending on healthcare and education, said Biden’s team and top Democrats in Congress. .

The first bill will likely be deficit funded, in line with the Covid-19 relief bills that Congress passed last year.

Mr Biden said he would work to build Republican support for his plans and that it would take 10 Republican Senate votes to overcome a filibuster. But the main Democrats in the House and Senate are preparing to swiftly switch to a parliamentary process known as budget reconciliation in case they can only get a simple majority in the Senate. Republicans used the procedure to bypass a filibuster and approve Mr. Trump’s tax cuts in 2017.

Democrats on both sides of Capitol Hill – including Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, who will be the majority leader – have urged Mr Biden to spend more than he originally planned in the original relief bill , said people familiar with the conversations.

Many Democrats in the House and Senate urged Mr Biden this week to add elements to the first bill, including targeted support for restaurants and temporary extensions to the Labor and Employment Income Tax Credit. child tax credit, which could cost just over $ 100 billion. . Economists say increasing these credits could dramatically reduce child poverty when many low-income parents have lost their jobs and turn to food banks for help.

Congressional Democrats can include the expansion of these credits in their legislation whether Mr. Biden asks for it or not. After Congress passed a $ 900 billion aid bill that did not include the Democrats’ full list of priorities in December, Mr Schumer asked committee members to draft a bill that would include the expansion of these tax credits, as well as additional direct payments and aid to states and local communities. Governments.

Democrats are also pushing Biden to include provisions in his proposal to automatically renew federal unemployment benefits and other aid until the unemployment rate falls to a specified level, in case Congress ceases to ‘approve other bailout bills in the future.

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