Biden team denies president-elect wants Democrats to accept smaller relief deal

US News

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden speaks about the U.S. economy following a briefing with economic advisers in Wilmington, Delaware, November 16, 2020.

Kevin Lemarque | Reuters

Joe Biden‘s transition team denied Monday that the president-elect’s advisors have pushed Democratic congressional leaders to potentially accept a smaller coronavirus stimulus package in order to send more relief now.

In public remarks, the former vice president has repeatedly supported the effort by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to approve aid legislation that costs at least $2.2 trillion. However, a New York Times report Monday said Biden’s team has urged the Democrats to strike an agreement with Republicans as soon as possible to curb mounting economic damage from the outbreak, even if it means cutting their desired price tag.

Biden spokesman Andrew Bates called the report “incorrect.” In a statement to NBC News, he said the president-elect “fully supports the Speaker and Leader in their negotiations.”

Leaders of the Democratic-held House and GOP-controlled Senate have not held formal stimulus talks since the Nov. 3 election. Both sides have yielded no ground as Republicans push for about $500 billion in spending — far less than what Democrats want.

Congress has failed to approve new aid money for months as the parties describe fundamentally different visions for what the economy and health-care system need to recover from the pandemic. Republicans have touted the U.S. economic rebound in recent months, though the progress looks like it will take a hit as states and cities put restrictions in place to curb surging infection counts.

The prospect of many Americans holding their usual Thanksgiving celebrations as the virus overwhelms hospitals has raised even more fears among public health officials.

Last month, Democrats passed a $2.2 trillion stimulus bill that included $600 per week in extra unemployment benefits, another $1,200 direct payment to most Americans, more than $400 billion in state and local government relief and another round of Paycheck Protection Program small business loans. While a $500 billion plan the Senate GOP tried to pass last month included PPP funding, it offered a smaller $300 per week unemployment benefit and did not include a second stimulus check.

Congress will not return from its Thanksgiving recess until next week. Then, leaders will occupy themselves with passing a government funding bill by a Dec. 11 deadline.

Lawmakers would face a challenge in reaching a stimulus compromise before Biden takes office on Jan. 20.

It may prove a difficult task then, too. While Democrats will hold the House next year, two January runoff elections in Georgia will determine whether Republicans keep control of the Senate.

After Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris huddled with Pelosi and Schumer on Friday, the Democrats said they “agreed that Congress needed to pass a bipartisan emergency aid package in the lame duck session” before Biden takes office, according to a joint readout of the meeting.

They said “that package should include resources to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, relief for working families and small businesses, support for state and local governments trying to keep frontline workers on the payroll, expanded Unemployment Insurance, and affordable health care for millions of families.”

Pelosi and Schumer have urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to restart talks on a stimulus plan. The top Senate Republican has repeatedly said the Democrats have embraced policies not necessary to fight the crises.

Several economic relief provisions the federal government implemented earlier this year will expire at the end of December. They include a measure allowing many Americans to qualify for unemployment insurance for a longer period of time, along with relief for student loan borrowers and renters.

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