The friendship between Biden and Dole, the former Republican Senate leader who recently revealed he was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer, was forged over the many years the two have served. together in the Senate. Biden often speaks nostalgically about his working relationship with GOP leaders during this less polarizing time when negotiation was the rule rather than the exception.
But on the pandemic, at least, he’s looking at the limited political capital he has in a tightly divided Congress, while championing the package directly to the American people as he tries to overcome Republican opposition.
In this first look at Biden’s presidential selling quality, he didn’t hesitate to call out Republicans who fear backing his US bailout, despite his popularity – urging them to come up with their ideas for a potential compromise. At a Pfizer Michigan vaccine factory on Friday, he passionately defended the bill while pushing back against Republican critics who said it was too big and too expensive.
“Let me ask them: what would they have me cut? What would they make me forget? Biden asked. “Shouldn’t we be investing $ 20 billion to immunize the nation? Shouldn’t we be investing 290 (billion dollars) to expand unemployment insurance for the 11 million Americans who are unemployed so that they can get by while they get back to work? Shouldn’t we be investing $ 50 billion to help small businesses stay open when tens of thousands have had to shut down permanently? … not invest 130 (billion dollars) to help schools across the country open safely? ”
In its current form, the House bill released on Friday, which closely mirrors Biden’s proposal, would provide direct payments of up to $ 1,400 per person for Americans earning up to $ 75,000 a year, while extending major pandemic unemployment programs through August and the 15% increase in food. benefits of the stamp until September. The legislation also includes assistance for struggling homeowners and those at risk of homelessness, as well as substantial tax credits for low-income families and workers.
While many parents focus on how to get their kids back to in-person classes, Biden and his assistants pointed to the nearly $ 130 billion the plan would provide to K-12 schools to help them pay for the changes. security that the administration hopes to provide. more schools to reopen.
One of the most controversial provisions is the gradual increase in the federal minimum wage from $ 7.25 an hour to $ 15 an hour by 2025. Moderate democratic sensitivity. Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin have already signaled their opposition to this provision – and with the Senate split 50-50, Biden can’t afford to lose a single member of his caucus. The Senate parliamentarian must also consider whether raising the minimum wage would have a direct impact on the federal budget – which would allow it to be seen as part of the process known as reconciliation. it could allow Democrats to pass online voting legislation.
Biden admitted that he believes the increase in the minimum wage is unlikely to survive as part of the package. But Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Democrats and is also chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, has vigorously advocated for the provision as a change he said the nation “desperately needs.” In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Friday night, he noted that the increase would be gradual and that the federal government would provide small business tax credits to help cushion the impact.
“If you ask me what the major economic crisis is in this country today – it’s not just unemployment. It’s the fact that half of our workers are living paycheck to paycheck, and millions people are working for starvation wages, ”Sanders told Blitzer. “You can’t survive in any state in this country on $ 8 or $ 9 an hour. You sure can’t raise your kids on those wages.”
Sanders said in an interview with CNN on Saturday that he was confident the Senate parliamentarian would eventually go along with the argument that he and other progressives have argued that “raising the minimum wage to $ 15 from l ‘time is not “ incidental’ ‘to the federal budget and is permitted under the rules of reconciliation. ”
Representative Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat from Washington who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told reporters last week that current economic conditions and the makeup of the Senate have created “our best opportunity” and “the right time” to achieve their goal. long-standing increase in the minimum wage to $ 15 an hour.
In a preview of the arguments Republicans will present this week, GOP House leaders have already started urging their members to vote against the bill, calling it the “Payoff to Progressives Act.” In an email to members obtained by CNN on Friday, the office of House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, House Republican No.2, argued that Democrats had rushed the bill to the ground – and said he would “bail out the blue states” while “pay people not to work.”
Scalise’s office called the bill the embodiment of a “liberal wish list.”
Biden seeks to overcome those Republican objections by continuing to appeal directly to the American people this week. And Republicans’ objections over the next week carry some risk, given the popularity of the legislation.
A Quinnipiac University poll released earlier this month showed that nearly 7 in 10 Americans supported the $ 1.9 trillion package and only 24% opposed it. Support was overwhelming among Democrats, but also considerable among independents (who said they were in favor of the bill from 68% to 25%). Republicans opposed the package in the survey from 47% to 37%.
Speaking in Michigan on Friday, Biden said he was open to ideas on how “to improve the package and make it cheaper.”
“I hope Republicans in Congress listen to their constituents,” he said. The Americans, he added, “want us to act, and act fast and big, and support the plan.”