Tuesday, June 22, 2021

in-focus

House approves budget plan as President Biden emphasizes willingness to approve stimulus without GOP votes


WASHINGTON - President Joe Biden on Friday sent his strongest message yet that he intends to move forward on his economic relief plan without Republican support, as the House gave final approval to a budget bill that will allow him to do just that.

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The House voted 219-209 to approve the budget plan, which the Senate had already passed early Friday morning, beginning the process of turning Biden's stimulus proposal into legislation. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Friday she aims to pass Biden's stimulus plan through the House within two weeks.

The rapid movement by congressional Democrats came as Biden gave his sharpest criticism to date of the Republican approach to the stimulus package, suggesting further negotiations with the GOP could cause an unacceptable delay to critical relief.

"Are we going to say to millions of Americans who are out of work - many out of work for six months or longer, who have been scarred by this economic and public health crisis - Don't worry, hang on, things are going to get better' " Biden said in remarks at the White House on Friday. "That's the Republican answer right now. I can't in good conscience do that. Too many people in the nation have already suffered for too long."

Biden's declaration that he will not wait for Republicans represents a pivotal moment in his presidency, given his pledges restore bipartisanship to Washington. Biden spent 40 years shaping a political identity as a figure who reaches across the aisle - often attracting mockery or derision for it - and he campaigned on pulling the country together after the divisiveness of the Donald Trump era.

Biden invited Republicans to the White House for negotiations over the stimulus, and White House officials said they would still try to incorporate GOP ideas into the final package. But on Friday, Biden sounded ready to push ahead with only the Democrats' tiny majorities reliably behind him.

"I see enormous pain in this country. A lot of folks out of work. A lot of folks going hungry, staring at the ceiling at night wondering, 'What am I going to do tomorrow?' " Biden said. "So I'm going to act, and I'm going to act fast."

The budget plan passed by the House will direct committees to start working on the details underlying Biden's $1.9 trillion stimulus package. The Senate approved that measure in the early-morning hours Friday by a 51-50 vote, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tiebreaking vote in the chamber after more than 15 hours of debate.

The stimulus package would include checks up to $1,400 for low- and moderate-income families, extended jobless benefits, and provide $160 billion to strengthen the public health response to the pandemic, improving the vaccine distribution and increased testing, among other measures.

The Friday votes are the latest sign of a more partisan effort underway in pursuing final passage of Biden's relief package through a narrow majority.

Top Democrats in both chambers say they are moving with an increased sense of urgency, as the economic recovery from the pandemic continues to show signs of stalling. Meanwhile GOP lawmakers have called for slowing down the relief effort and substantially scaling back the $1.9 trillion effort, which conservatives have derided as unnecessarily increasing the federal deficit.

For his part, Biden, on Friday, accused Republicans of "rediscovering" the danger of the deficit, which rose during the Trump administration with massive tax cuts.

A new jobs report out Friday provided the latest glimpse of the faltering economy, which added just 49,000 jobs in January, an anemic amount of growth, coming a month after the labor market shed jobs. The U.S. has only recovered about half of the 22 million jobs it lost between February and April.

"We now have three disappointing months in a row. We have to admit we've stalled out. There's a danger of double-dip recession," Austan Goolsbee, who served as a senior economist in the Obama administration, said on CNBC Friday morning while talking about the January jobs report.

Indeed, Democrats have been rushing the stimulus package through, in part, because tens of millions of Americans would begin to lose federal unemployment benefits under existing law in mid-March.

Biden on Friday hosted House Democratic leaders, including Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., at the White House to make the case for swiftly passing the relief effort. He also cited increases in suicides, drug abuse and violence against women during the pandemic.

Pelosi also told House Democrats in a letter Friday that they aim to "finish our work" on the relief package before the end of February. Asked if she could guarantee the legislation would be passed before unemployment aid expires for millions of Americans in mid-March, Pelosi said: "Absolutely. Without any question. Before then."

"Hopefully in a two-week period of time, we will send something over to the Senate," Pelosi said, flanked by the Democratic committee chairs. "We hope to be able to put vaccines in people's arms; money in people's pockets; children safely in schools; and workers in their jobs."

Earlier on Friday, the Senate passage of the budget resolution moved the "budget reconciliation" process along, clearing the way for the final stimulus package to pass the Senate with a simple-majority vote, instead of the 60 normally required. That allows Democrats to move forward with no GOP votes if necessary, although Democrats and Biden officials insist that they hope Republicans will join them.

The Senate spent most of Thursday afternoon and Friday morning voting on some 45 amendments on a range of issues, including passing a motion that said stimulus payments should not go to affluent Americans.

"The American people deserve for the conversation about next steps to begin with them and their needs. Not partisan rush jobs. Not talking points," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on the Senate floor on Thursday. "It will not serve Americans to pile another huge mountain of debt on our grandkids for policies that even liberal economists say are poorly targeted to current needs."

Not all Democrats have been thrilled with Biden's approach. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., the most conservative Senate Democrat, has said he would strongly prefer a bipartisan bill than one approved only with Democratic votes. On Friday, a bipartisan group of centrist House lawmakers called the Problem Solvers Caucus called for Congress to first approve legislation boosting vaccine distribution -- an approach rejected by the White House.

Published : February 06, 2021

By : The Washington Post, Jeff Stein, Erica Werner, and Rachel Siegel