WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — President Joe Biden said on Friday that Congress needs to take immediate action on his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief proposal, adding that most economists believe additional economic stimulus is needed.
“We have learned from past crises that the risk is not doing too much,” Biden said. “The risk is not doing enough.”
“We have to act now,” Biden said at a Friday meeting with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. “There is an overwhelming consensus among economists — left, right and center — that this is a unique moment and the cost of inaction is high.”
The president later said he supported passing COVID-19 relief with or without Republican help.
“I support passing COVID relief with support from Republicans, if we can get it. But the COVID relief has to pass with no ifs, ands or buts,” Biden said.
Biden spoke as Democrats who lead the Senate and House prepared to take the first steps next week toward delivering fresh assistance to Americans and businesses reeling from a pandemic that has killed more than 433,000 people.
Congress enacted $4 trillion in COVID-19 relief last year.
On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the sharply divided chamber would begin work on robust legislation next week.
With the 100-seat Senate split 50-50 and Vice President Kamala Harris wielding the tiebreaking vote, Democrats are preparing to use a parliamentary tool called “reconciliation” that would allow the chamber to approve COVID-19 relief with a simple majority. Because of Senate rules, legislation usually requires 60 votes to pass the chamber.
“There is no time for any delays,” Biden said on Friday. “We could end up with 4 million fewer jobs this year … It could take a year longer to return to full employment if we don’t act and don’t act now.”
Only a week into his presidency, Biden is confronting the challenge of selling his first major piece of legislation to a country he has pledged to unite. Private calls with Republican lawmakers have yet to produce any progress on reaching a deal, while Senate Democrats are now preparing to pass the measure strictly on partisan lines as soon as next week.
Biden’s outreach to senators has largely brought criticism that the plan should be more targeted and that the country can afford to wait to see the effects of the stimulus dollars that were approved in December.
Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, the third-ranking party leader, said Biden should stick to the call for unity he outlined in his inaugural address, particularly with the evenly split Senate. “If there’s ever been a mandate to move to the middle, it’s this,” he said. “It’s not let’s just go off the cliff.”
Republican lawmakers see a need for speeding vaccinations, but one Senate aide said their offices are not being bombarded with calls for an additional aid package. Constituents are more focused on the looming impeachment trial, said the aide, who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi predicted on Thursday that both chambers of Congress would be ready to move forward through reconciliation by the end of next week.
The Commerce Department said Thursday the U.S. economy shrank 3.5% last year, and on Friday it reported that consumer spending — the main driver of growth — had slumped 0.2% in December. But the consumer spending report also suggested that the expanded unemployment benefits from the $900 billion aid package passed that same month had managed to boost incomes.
Gregory Daco, an economist at Oxford Economics, said, “The COVID relief bill of December essentially addressed the past, the dwindling aid at the end of 2020,” and the administration must now sell the public on what lies ahead, as he says “The American Rescue Plan — it’s a plan geared toward the future, bridging the gap between January and September, when people will be able to spend more freely.”
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.