Joe Biden will make his case for a $1.9tn stimulus plan directly to the US public on his first official trip outside of Washington since becoming president in a bid to pressure Congress into closing negotiations over the package.
Biden’s planned visit to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on Tuesday follows the swift conclusion of the impeachment trial against Donald Trump on Saturday, which resulted in the former president’s acquittal in the Senate for his role in inciting the deadly attack on the US Capitol last month.
The end of the proceedings will allow Biden to recapture the full attention of lawmakers for his economic agenda, which aims to combat the fallout from the pandemic with a massive new injection of government spending.
It will also put more of a spotlight on Biden’s other initiatives, including a Thursday visit to a Pfizer vaccine plant and remarks via videoconference on Friday at the Munich security conference and a G7 meeting, where he is expected to add a global dimension to his stimulus pitch.
According to the White House, Biden will stress the “importance of all industrialised countries maintaining economic support for the recovery” and the “need to make investments to strengthen our collective competitiveness and the importance of updating global rules to tackle economic challenges such as those posed by China”.
Domestically, Biden and his top officials have struggled to gain support from Republicans on Capitol Hill for their relief package, which includes $1,400 cheques for individuals, extra funding for unemployment benefits, an increase in child tax credits and aid to state and local governments.
Many Republican lawmakers have argued that the price tag is excessive and would unnecessarily add to the US public debt. Democrats insist they are willing to pass the bill unilaterally, using their slim majorities in both the House and the Senate if necessary.
But with polls showing that many of the provisions of the legislation — particularly the direct payments to households — are garnering high levels of support among US voters, Democrats are counting on public pressure to sway at least a few moderate Republicans towards supporting the plan.
According to a survey conducted by bipartisan pollsters for CNBC, 64 per cent of Americans believe the cost of the bill is “about right” or “too little”, with 36 per cent saying it is “too much”.
Chris Coons, the Delaware senator and one of Biden’s top allies in Congress, told ABC on Sunday, said: “I think that phase of accountability [for Trump] moves to the courts now and we in Congress need to move forward with delivering the expanded unemployment cheques, the stimulus cheques, the reinvestment in our economy that the American people so desperately need and deserve.”
One White House official said the end of the impeachment trial was an inflection point for the stimulus talks but insisted there had already been considerable progress towards finalising the legislation.
So far, Biden has not set a firm deadline for passage of the relief bill but Democrats say they want it enacted before the latest extension of emergency jobless benefits expires in mid-March. The package also includes funding for the rollout of Covid-19 vaccinations across the country, which is seen as urgent by US health officials.
Sticking points in Biden’s stimulus talks with Congress include whether the administration will keep insisting on an increase in the federal minimum wage to $15. Many Republicans and some conservative Democrats, such as Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, oppose the measure. Biden is insisting on keeping the full $1,400 payments for individuals, but friction could still emerge over the $75,000 income threshold above which people cannot access the full amount.
“The Democrats will now focus entirely on passing Biden's relief package and the key question will be how to meet Senator Manchin's requirement that it's a bipartisan bill,” said Meghan Pennington, a former Democratic Senate aide now a managing director at Hamilton Place Strategies, a consultancy. “There's a good chance that the Republicans who voted to convict Trump will play an important role in whatever final agreement comes together, perhaps offering their support for changes like dropping the minimum wage hike.”
After the relief package is approved, the Biden administration wants to move on with other elements of its first-term agenda, including a boost in infrastructure and green energy investments, to be partially paid for by higher taxes on the wealthy and corporate America.