Biden’s call for stimulus runs into swift Republican opposition

Erik Wasson and Laura Litvan

President-Elect Joe Biden’s call for Congress to pass a larger-scale stimulus package ran into swift headwinds, with downbeat comments from a senior Republican senator.

Biden, in his first remarks dedicated to the economy since winning the Nov. 3 election, on Tuesday called on lawmakers to immediately pass a bill like the $2.4 trillion measure passed by the Democratic-led House before the election.

“Right now Congress should come together and pass a Covid relief package like the Heroes Act,” Biden said Monday in Wilmington, Delaware.

President-elect Joe Biden, left, and Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby made clear that’s not coming soon. “We’re not going to pass a gigantic measure right now – and the question is will we pass it later? Doubtful,” he said, hours after Biden spoke.

Shelby’s response suggests Biden faces the same stalemate that confronted President Donald Trump, who failed to press Senate Republicans into backing a multi-trillion Covid-19 relief package. GOP members instead favor a roughly $500 billion proposal.

Targeted Preference

“Start with the skinny bill,” Shelby said. “We had targeted it to various needs of small business and hiring. Keep the economy going, not a wish list of fixes for political, social problems.”

Assuming there is no deal during the lame-duck session of Congress, it will be up to the Biden administration to work with lawmakers starting in January on fiscal aid that economists and the Federal Reserve say is vital to support the economic recovery.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer have pushed for their comprehensive package, citing the resurgence of Covid-19 cases as one factor demading a bigger response. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has pointed to bigger-than-expected declines in the unemployment rate and to the development of vaccines in arguing for a targeted bill.

At least some Covid-19 assistance could potentially be attached to a vital spending bill that will be needed to avoid the federal government shutting down after Dec. 11 – when current funding runs out. House and Senate negotiators are working on an omnibus package that would include appropriations bills for funding through next September.

Senator Roy Blunt, a member of McConnell’s leadership team, said Monday the “most critical” aspects of Covid relief could be added to that omnibus package. While he wasn’t aware of any such decision, he observed that there appeared to be “more interest” in that solution than a separate stimulus bill.

Even so, there’s bipartisan opposition to attaching a whole stimulus package to the omnibus bill or any stopgap spending measure, according to Senator Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican.

Also unlikely for now, according to Wicker, are provisions specifically to help the airline industry or provide fresh funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, which helped small businesses if they kept workers on payrolls. But “tomorrow is another day,” he said, suggesting it could be something to look at next year.