If GOP isn’t serious about COVID relief, Biden must move on | Editorial

Posted Feb 03, 2021

The crisis President Biden faces is virtually unmatched in American history, and he has made it clear that he would like to address it with bipartisan muscle. In that spirit, he met with Senate Republicans to discuss a COVID relief bill Monday at the White House.

But it is hard to conclude from that two-hour powwow that the Republicans fully grasp what is needed for a pandemic-stricken country with a shipwrecked economy, and Biden and his Democratic majority must be prepared to move on to address an American desperation that has already red-lined.

The president’s $1.9 trillion proposal, called the American Rescue Plan, is a powerful package that targets virus control, vaccine distribution and prevents tens of millions of families from falling even deeper into poverty. It meets the urgency of the moment: It gets shots into arms, it protects small businesses, it fortifies the safety net for those out of work, it gets schools reopened, feeds the hungry, and saves lives.

It is scaled to meet the challenge of our lifetime, and for those who fear that Biden thinks too big, ask Standard and Poor’s, the financial analytics experts: A new study from S&P finds that the $1.9 trillion boost would restore the economy to pre-pandemic levels.

That doesn’t mean the bill is perfect. The Biden proposal includes $1,400 direct payments to most Americans, including families making as much as $400,000. These direct payments make up one-quarter of Biden’s plan, and as of Wednesday, Republicans reportedly succeeded in getting Biden to re-think how he will target the aid checks to reach those in greater need.

An income cap is a valid point, but you won’t find many others coming from the Republicans, whose $618 billion counterproposal doesn’t exactly meet this emergency with the requisite vigor. In fact, its inadequacy is eye-rolling.

It would shrink Biden’s plan for supplemental unemployment benefits by more than 60 percent — dropping the added benefit from $400 per week to $300 — and end the payments in June rather than September, or long before we return to full employment.

It has virtually no aid for schools and colleges, slashing almost all of Biden’s $170 billion strategy for reopening classrooms.

It ignores the president’s proposal to raise the federal minimum wage, which has dropped 17 percent of its value since it was set at $7.25 in 2009 — a loss of $3,000 in annual earnings.

And in the most irresponsible omission, it erases the $350 billion lifeline that Biden will send to states and cities, which would lead to more municipal layoffs and cripple the pandemic response.

For the record, 64 percent of Republicans (and 90 percent of Democrats) approve of stimulus checks, and the overall Biden package gets 68 percent overall approval. Deficit hawks should know that part of the package would be paid for with a repeal of the tax cut for real estate investors.

Republicans probably expect Biden to meet them halfway, but he has a good memory. The last time they demanded concessions from a Democratic president — on the Affordable Care Act in 2009 — the Democrats compromised just enough to get zero Republican votes.

So by the end of the week, Democrats in both houses will pass a budget resolution that would give them the ability to pass Biden’s bill with just a simple majority — not the bipartisan solution the president prefers, but one Republicans should fear as an option. With unemployment benefits expiring in March, there are larger priorities than Mitch McConnell’s feelings.

Sen. Cory Booker said it right on MSNBC Tuesday: “I’m a guy who believes you work across the aisle and build coalitions. But if we’re going to bend and not pick up their votes, I would rather put a package through reconciliation that would meet the crisis, and let Americans see that we are serious about business.”

Two weeks into the new job, Biden wants to keep the bonhomie alive, if only to get Republicans to work with him on big-ticket items such as immigration and climate. We applaud the impulse.

But he was elected to address the big stuff, and he will be judged on what he delivers – not on whether it passed with 60 Senate votes or through reconciliation. It’s time to deliver.

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published this page in News and Politics 2021-02-04 02:38:58 -0800