WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — With President Joe Biden in office, many Democrats were hopeful he’d quickly try to push his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan through Congress and get a $1,400 stimulus check out as soon as possible to most Americans.
The process is taking longer than many Democratic leaders hoped. The checks are part of a complex and layered plan that includes increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, expanding paid leave for workers, and increasing tax credits for families with children.
During a press conference Monday, after signing an executive order designed to galvanize the economy and help factories, Biden shed light on why his team landed on $1,400 for the size of stimulus checks outlined in his COVID relief plan.
The stimulus check amount has been the topic of consternation for many after the Biden administration confirmed that they wanted to raise the $600 payments that former President Trump signed into law at the end of 2020 to a total of $2,000. Many who heard Biden calling for $2,000 stimulus checks, including some lawmakers, hoped that Biden would up the amount to $2,000 payments in addition to the $600.
Biden acknowledged that there will be disagreements as he tries to take a bipartisan approach to the obstacles facing the country.
“We’re going to have arguments. For example, I proposed that, because it was bipartisan it would increase the prospects of passage, the additional $1,400 in direct cash payments to folks,” Biden said. “Well, there’s legitimate reason for people to say, ‘Do you have the lines drawn the exact right way? Should it go to anybody making over “X” number of dollars?’ I’m open to negotiate those things.”
Biden also revealed how he decided upon the $1,400 amount.
“I picked it because I thought it was rational, reasonable, and it had overwhelming bipartisan support in the House when it passed.”
Biden said he is hopeful that his plan will have the country moving in the right direction because of an “overwhelming consensus” among economists and policy experts that the way to avoid a devastating economic collapse is to “spend money now.”
Biden reiterated Monday that he believes the country is in a precarious spot and that relief is urgently needed, even as he dismissed the possibility of embracing a scaled-down bill to secure passage faster.
“Time is of the essence,” Biden said. “I am reluctant to cherry-pick and take out one or two items here.”
Biden’s comments come after his administration med privately Sunday to outline the stimulus plan with a bipartisan group of 16 senators, mostly centrists, who were among those instrumental in crafting and delivering the most recent round of COVID aid. The ability to win over that coalition, led by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., will be central to any path, a test-run for working with Congress on a bipartisan basis.
But Republicans on Capitol Hill were not joining in the push for immediate action.
Collins said after Sunday’s call that “it seems premature to be considering a package of this size and scope.” Collins described the additional funding for vaccinations as useful while cautioning that any economic aid should be more targeted.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Monday that “any further action should be smart and targeted, not just an imprecise deluge of borrowed money that would direct huge sums toward those who don’t need it.”
Biden sought to downplay the rhetoric from GOP lawmakers, saying, “I have been doing legislative negotiations for a large part of my life. I know how the system works.”
“This is just the process beginning,” he added. “No one wants to give up on their position until there’s no other alternative.”
February would likely be the earliest a package would be approved. Once approved, the U.S. Department of the Treasury could distribute checks in a matter of days. They’ve improved the processing speed substantially from the first round of $1,200 checks to the more recent $600 payment.
There is some concern that impeachment proceedings against the outgoing president could delay the process. It’s expected that Trump’s trial in the Senate would begin the week of Feb. 8. Of course, whether it proves to be a distraction in the stimulus process remains to be seen.
The coronavirus relief plan comes as a divided nation is in the grip of the pandemic’s most dangerous wave yet. So far, more than 400,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the U.S, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Under Biden’s multipronged strategy, about $400 billion would go directly to combating the pandemic, while the rest is focused on economic relief and aid to states and localities.
About $20 billion would be allocated for a more disciplined focus on vaccination, on top of some $8 billion already approved by Congress. Biden has called for setting up mass vaccination centers and sending mobile units to hard-to-reach areas.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.