(CBS Detroit) — On Thursday evening, President-elect Joe Biden disclosed plans for a $1.9 trillion stimulus package. The American Rescue Plan aims to counter the worsening COVID-19 pandemic and support the economy that it continues to destroy. It’s three prongs include $400 billion for stopping the advance of COVID and improving the nation’s capacity for vaccinations, $1 trillion in financial support for struggling families and $440 billion to help communities and small businesses. A $1,400 stimulus check would be part of the proposal, which faces a potentially difficult road to becoming law in its current form.
“I believe we have a moral obligation,” Biden said, in a speech outlining the plan. “In this pandemic in America, we cannot let people go hungry, we cannot let people get evicted, we cannot watch nurses, educators and others lose their jobs, we so badly need them. We must act now, and we must act decisively.”
One initial goal of the $400 billion counteroffensive against the march of the coronavirus is to vaccinate 100 million people in 100 days. Biden sees vaccination centers in communities around the country as one way to reach that number and will earmark $20 billion for broadening the vaccination effort nationwide. Another $50 billion would go toward expanded testing, with $130 billion for reopening schools. This expansion of the anti-COVID infrastructure also calls for a public health jobs corps numbering 100,000 to disseminate factual information to the public and contract-trace.
The second and largest segment of this COVID relief package looks to dedicate $1 trillion of financial assistance to struggling families. Topping the wish list are $2,000 stimulus checks, which actually amount to $1,400, given the $600 payments that have been arriving in bank accounts and mailboxes since early January. Economic relief will also extend to unemployment insurance. The $300 weekly federal supplement provided by the recent $900 billion stimulus package would be increased to $400 and extended through September rather than March. Those who have burned through their benefits, as well as those who don’t normally qualify for benefits (i.e. freelancers and gig workers) would also be covered. The proposal also calls for adding $25 billion more in rental assistance and expanding the child tax credit.
Beyond direct payments to individuals, another $440 billion would be tabbed for communities and small businesses. This includes $350 billion of much-needed aid for state and local governments. A sticking point among Republicans, this funding was dropped from the second stimulus package. It remains a key area of need, however, as shrinking tax bases lead to public sector layoffs and a declines in local services. This part of the plan would feature $15 billion in grants for small businesses, $20 billion in support for transit systems.
A stimulus package approaching $2 trillion seemed unlikely as recently as a few weeks ago. Republicans, who seemed destined to maintain control of the Senate, had opposed large amounts of stimulus spending ever since the CARES Act passed last March. But much has changed in the new year. The Democrats gained a simple majority in the Senate. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock’s wins in Georgia’s runoff election split the upper house 50-50, leaving the tie-breaking vote to the Vice President. With Biden’s inauguration next week, Democrats will control the presidency and both houses of Congress.
The ability to pass certain legislation on a party-line vote doesn’t guarantee success for this $1.9 trillion proposal. One Democratic defector in the Senate could sink the bill in its current form without a Republican to take their place. Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia seems like the most likely candidate to jump ship. The Biden administration is already seeking out support from more centrist Republicans.
Another potential obstacle in the Senate is a second impeachment trial for Donald Trump. That could dominate the Senate’s time in the early days of the Biden presidency. Making quick progress on the stimulus package and impeachment trial simultaneously seems like a tall order for a united Senate, let alone a divided one.
Biden will also face pressure from the more liberal wing of his party. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is pushing for stimulus payments worth a full $2,000, rather than an additional $1,400 added to the recent $600.
Rep. Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) says Dems should pass $2K on top of the $600 from December, rather than add $1,400 to get $600 to $2K.
— Jeff Stein (@JStein_WaPo) January 14, 2021
The economy has stalled out as the COVID pandemic continues. For the first week of January, approximately one million people filed for unemployment. That’s up from 784,000 claims the previous week. The 965,000 new claims is the most since August, and the 181,000 weekly increase is the largest since March. Over 284,000 people filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which helps freelance workers who don’t qualify for traditional unemployment insurance.
Meanwhile, the economy can’t recover with a pandemic limiting so many people’s ability to work and spend. But COVID-19 shows little sign of abating. The country set another ominous record on Tuesday, when 4,327 people died of the dreaded virus. As the post-holiday surge continues, domestic deaths have topped 390,000, and COVID cases have exceeded 23 million. Both of those numbers will continue to increase for the foreseeable future, with herd immunity far from a reality.