Washington, Feb 5 (efe-epa).- President Joe Biden said Friday that while he would welcome support from Republicans for his $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill, he is not willing to delay action in the face of the “enormous pain” in the United States.
“If I have to choose between getting help right now to Americans who are hurting so badly and getting bogged down in a lengthy negotiation or compromising on a bill that’s up to the crisis, that’s an easy choice. I’m going to help the American people who are hurting now,” he said at the White House.
“What Republicans have proposed is either to do nothing or not enough,” the president said hours after the US Senate narrowly approved a procedural motion paving the way for the Democrats to pass the “American Rescue Plan” without GOP support.
It required the vote of Vice President Kamala Harris, acting in her constitutional role as president of the Senate, for the motion to prevail 51-50.
The House of Representatives, where the Democrats have a larger majority, approved the motion Friday afternoon by a vote of 219-209.
A handful of Republicans joined Democrats in advancing the plan, which includes means-tested direct payments of $1,400 to individuals and an additional $400 a week in federal unemployment benefits through the end of September, as well aid to state and municipal governments and additional funding to fight the pandemic, which has claimed 456,000 lives in the US.
The process of drafting the specific provisions of the bill will take place in various committees of the House and Senate.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she expected the lower chamber to pass the legislation in two weeks and the hope is that the final version will reach Biden’s desk by the middle of next month, when the extra $300 a week in jobless benefits that were part of the $900 billion relief bill then-President Donald Trump signed on Dec. 27 are set to expire.
Also included in the American Rescue Act is an initiative to increase the federal minimum wage from the current $7.25 an hour to $15.00 an hour over a period of five years.
Biden, who spent more than three decades in the Senate before becoming Barack Obama’s vice president in 2009, said from the start that he wanted a bipartisan bill and he met Sunday with a group of Republican senators to discuss their proposal for a $600 billion bill.
Some Republicans say that the economy is already recovering and that there is no need for what would be a third relief package, following the December bill and the $2.2-trillion CARES Act, enacted last March.
The president, however, pointed to Labor Department’s January jobs report, released Friday, which showed that the US economy created only 49,000 new jobs last month, with total employment still down by 9.9 million from the pre-pandemic level of February 2020.
More significant, perhaps, was a revision of the December report to indicate that 227,000 jobs were eliminated in the final month of 2020, 87,000 more than the initial estimate of 140,000.
“It is very clear our economy is still in trouble,” Biden said.
“I know some in Congress think we’ve already done enough to deal with the crisis in the country. Others think that things are getting better and we can afford to sit back and either do little or do nothing at all. That’s not what I see. I see enormous pain in this country. A lot of folks out of work. A lot of folks going hungry,” he said.
For several months before the pandemic, the official unemployment rate was 3.5 percent, the lowest in 50 years. But it soared to 14 percent in May after the economic shutdown destroyed more than 20 million jobs.
“It’s not just the macroeconomic impact on our economy and our ability to compete internationally. It’s people’s lives. Real, live people are hurting and we can fix it,” Biden said. EFE hma/dr