President Joe Biden on Friday said he would not reduce the proposed $1,400 direct payments as final House passage of a budget resolution meant lawmakers could start drafting the $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus legislation.
Speaking at the White House, Biden said the new checks, combined with the $600 payments approved in December. would give most Americans the $2,000 he promised. A group of 10 House Republicans proposed reducing the latest round of checks to $1,000.
“I’m not cutting the size of the checks,” Biden said. “They’re going to be $1,400. Period. That’s what the American people were promised.”
Biden spoke after the House approved a budget resolution mostly along party lines, 219-209, allowing whatever bill Congress produces to be passed by majority vote, without the threat of a filibuster.
While no Republican in either the House or Senate voted for the resolution, several GOP or bipartisan amendments were included. Biden said he was willing to negotiate with the Republicans for their support, but wanted quick approval of the bill. The goal is to pass it by mid-March, when the current extended unemployment insurance benefits expire.
“I’ve told both Republicans and Democrats that’s my preference: to work together,” Biden said. “But if I have to choose between getting help right now to Americans who are hurting so badly and getting bogged down in a lengthy negotiation or compromising on a bill that’s up to the crisis, that’s an easy choice. I’m going to help the American people who are hurting now.”
Adding a sense of urgency Friday was a U.S. Labor Department report showing that the economy added just 49,000 jobs last month after losing 227,000 jobs in December.
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“It’s clear that there’s a need for urgent and sustained action for the duration of this crisis,” said Jared Bernstein, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.
In its recent report, Moody’s Analytics said Biden’s plan “would provide a large boost to the economy if passed into law” and help create 7.5 million jobs this year and another 2.5 million next year, fully recovering all the jobs lost since the pandemic hit.
While Biden has refused to break apart the package, a bipartisan group of more moderate lawmakers recommended Friday that he do just that. The Problem Solvers Caucus, co-chaired by New Jersey Rep. Josh Gottheimer, called for quick approval of $160 billion for vaccines, while the discussions continued on rest of the bill.
“We simply cannot afford to wait weeks upon weeks to get more vaccines out the door,” said Gottheimer, D-5th Dist.
Gov. Phil Murphy, meanwhile, joined New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in laying claim to a portion of the proposal’s $350 billion in state and local aid commensurate with the fact that both states were among the ones hardest hit by the coronavirus when it first came to this country.
“We were clobbered,” Murphy said.
Cuomo said that when a disaster strikes, the areas most damaged get the most aid. That should happen here, he said.
“When a state gets hit by a hurricane, that state gets relief,” Cuomo said. “It’s not that every state gets relief. Our state and our region paid the highest price.”
Democratic U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez will be one of the senators helping to write the formula for distributing federal COVID assistance to state and local governments.
“The governors were absolutely right that we should be treating COVID aid like federal disaster assistance after a hurricane in which you target resources to the hardest-hit areas,” Menendez said. “New Jersey has been one of the hardest-hit states and we need the federal government to step up in a big way.”