Biden sets out stall for massive Covid-19 relief spend

President keen for bipartisan backing but prepared to press on with party support only

US president Joe Biden made the case for his $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package on Friday, amid criticism from Republicans and some economists that the scale of the proposal could negatively affect the US economy.

Speaking in the White House after a meeting with senior Democrats, Mr Biden said he would prefer bipartisan support for his plan, but was prepared to move ahead with only Democratic support.

It follows a vote in the Senate in the early hours of Friday paving the way for the chamber to pass the relief plan with just a simple majority, rather than the 60 votes needed for most legislation. The House of Representatives passed a similar resolution.

“The simple truth is, if we make these investments now with interest rates at historic lows, it will generate more growth, higher incomes, a stronger economy, and our nation’s finances will be in a stronger position as well,” Mr Biden said.

He quoted research from Moody's Analytics and the Brookings Institution to underline his argument that the pandemic has forced the United States to take unprecedented measures to shore up the economy. But writing in the Washington Post, former treasury secretary Larry Summers argued that the current economic situation is less acute than the financial crisis of 2009.

Mr Biden’s proposed package could create massive inflationary pressures, he argued, while it also lacked a proper long-term public investment plan to address the US economy’s structural problems.

Mr Biden’s call for a more ambitious stimulus package was boosted by new job figures on Friday showing the labour market added just 49,000 jobs last month, suggesting an economy that is struggling to bounce back as the pandemic continues.

He also called out Republicans for their approach to the proposed stimulus deal. “What Republicans have proposed is either to do nothing or not enough. All of a sudden, many of them have rediscovered fiscal restraint and the concern for the deficits. But don’t kid yourself: this approach will come with a cost. More pain, for more people, for longer than it has to be,” he said.

Cheques for all Americans

Following Friday's White House meeting, House speaker Nancy Pelosi said she aimed to pass the stimulus proposal through the House of Representatives within two weeks. She was speaking just before the House followed the Senate and approved the budget resolution underpinning the package in a vote on Friday, kick-starting the legislative process.

Committees in the House will now be tasked with working out the details of the $1.9 trillion package, which includes a proposal to send $1,400 cheques to Americans.

Meanwhile, Republican congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene struck a defiant note on Friday, a day after the House voted to remove her from committee positions over her support for conspiracy theories and espousal of radical right-wing beliefs. In her first public comments since the vote, Ms Greene described the Democrats, and 11 Republicans who voted with them, as "morons".

She said the Republican Party was the party of Donald Trump: "The party is his – it doesn't belong to anybody else."

Ms Greene was speaking ahead of next week’s impeachment trial at which the Senate will decide whether to convict the former president of inciting the January 6th riot at the Capitol. Mr Trump’s lawyers rebuffed calls from the House impeachment managers for the former president to testify under oath, calling it a “publicity stunt.”

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent