With President Joe Biden now in office, many Democrats were hopeful he’d quickly try to push his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan through Congress and get a $1,400 stimulus check out as soon as possible to most Americans. So far, we haven’t seen much movement on that.
As of Monday, the process is taking more time than many Democratic leaders hoped. The checks are part of a complex and layered plan that includes increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, expanding paid leave for workers and increasing tax credits for families with children.
Biden had a couple choices with the proposal: try to appease Republicans by sacrificing some of his agenda or try to pass as much as possible on a party-line basis.
As of now, it appears he’s taking option one.
On Sunday, the Biden administration met privately with a bipartisan group of 16 senators, mostly centrists, who were among those instrumental in crafting and delivering the most recent round of COVID aid. The ability to win over that coalition, led by Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., will be central to any path, a test-run for working with Congress on a bipartisan basis.
“Any new COVID relief package must be focused on the public health and economic crisis at hand,” Collins said in a Friday statement.
The Biden team’s approach could set the tenor for the rest of his presidency, showing whether he can provide the partisan healing that he called for in Wednesday’s inaugural address and whether the narrowly split Senate will prove a trusted partner or a roadblock to the White House agenda.
“The ball will be in Biden’s court to decide how much he is going to insist on and at what cost,” said William Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “As the old saw goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.”
If the last week is any indication, there’s no reason to believe the process will move particularly quickly. This means February would likely be the earliest we could see a package approved.
Once approved, the U.S. Department of the Treasury could distribute checks in a matter of days. They’ve improved the processing speed substantially from the first round of $1,200 checks to the more recent $600 payment.
There is some concern that impeachment proceedings against the outgoing president could delay the process. It’s expected that Donald Trump’s trial in the Senate would begin at some point in the next few weeks. Of course, whether it proves to be a distraction in the stimulus process remains to be seen.
The coronavirus relief plan comes as a divided nation is in the grip of the pandemic’s most dangerous wave yet. So far, more than 400,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the U.S., and recent government numbers reported a jump in weekly unemployment claims, to 965,000, a sign that rising infections are forcing businesses to cut back and lay off workers.
Under Biden’s multipronged strategy, about $400 billion would go directly to combating the pandemic, while the rest is focused on economic relief and aid to states and localities.
About $20 billion would be allocated for a more disciplined focus on vaccination, on top of some $8 billion already approved by Congress. Biden has called for setting up mass vaccination centers and sending mobile units to hard-to-reach areas.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.