(CN) — President-elect Joe Biden unveiled an ambitious spending plan Thursday calling for $1.9 trillion in federal spending to assist struggling American families and workers while allocating significant dollars to the vaccination rollout and the reopening of shuttered schools.
“We have an economic imperative to act now, but I also believe we have a moral obligation,” Biden said during an evening speech from Wilmington, Delaware, where his transition is headquartered. “In this economic downturn caused by the pandemic, we cannot let people go hungry, we cannot let people get evicted.”
The plan calls for $1,400 checks for all Americans, short of the $2,000 promoted by Democratic members of Congress and President Donald Trump but exceeding the $600 figure passed in the latest round of stimulus.
“We simply can’t afford not to do it,” said Biden, who is less than a week away from assuming office.
Many Republican members of Congress have already indicated a return to the party’s former positions on the deficit by demanding greater fiscal restraint, despite heavy spending by the Trump administration accompanied by steep tax cuts for corporations and high-income earners.
However, the two Democratic victories in the Georgia elections for two open Senate seats mean Democratic control of both houses, and an easier path for Biden’s signature policy asks. However, Democratic senators from traditionally Republican states like Joe Manchin of West Virginia have indicated they will not support prodigal spending plans. Moreover, Biden’s spending plan must also win the support of some Republicans to get to the 60 votes required to pass large legislation.
But there is an increasingly bipartisan consensus around an economic theory popularized by economist John Maynard Keyes that calls for government spending during economically depressed times to prop up demand until the economy is stabilized.
“Even Wall Street has invested in this logic,” Biden said during Thursday’s speech.
Biden also discussed the need to end the pandemic so Americans can get back to work and the hundreds of thousands of small businesses currently shuttered or partially operating can get back to pre-pandemic levels of activity.
To quell the coronavirus pandemic, Biden calls for the establishment of community vaccination centers to help expedite a rollout that has so far been plagued by delays.
“The vaccination rollout in the United States has been a dismal failure so far,” he said.
He said the operational challenges are significant but expressed confidence his team would live up to his promise to vaccinate 100 million Americans in the first 100 days of his term.
“We will move heaven and earth to get more people vaccinated,” he said.
The president-elect emphasized the need for a national contact tracing program to help open schools.
“That means more testing and transportation, additional cleaning and sanitizing services, protective equipment, and ventilation systems in the schools,” Biden said.
The implementation of those measures alone will cost $400 billion, according to the plan.
Shuttered schools have exacerbated education inequities for those without access to high-speed internet and burdened working parents used to relying on schools to care for children during working hours.
The plan also calls for a more targeted stimulus package to help small businesses hurt by the shutdown policies, saying the Cares Act passed during the Trump administration was susceptible to fraud and waste.
“It will focus on small businesses on Main Street,” he said.
Biden also called for unity and a bipartisan approach to solving the pandemic, while looking ahead to an infrastructure package to be unveiled in February.
He did not mention President Donald Trump, the Capitol riot, the impeachment proceedings or the deep partisan divisions that continue to fuel acrimony throughout the country. He did not take questions after the speech.
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