President-elect Joe Biden’s coronavirus economic relief package is expected to cost trillions, and on Tuesday, transition officials briefed Democratic congressional staff about his priorities for the massive stimulus bill, two people familiar with the plans told CBS News.
Elements of the package considered by Mr. Biden to be “critical” include $2,000 stimulus payments for Americans, more money for cities and states to boost their response to COVID-19 and to improve vaccine distribution and provide more funding for schools.
Mr. Biden also wants to see another extension and increase of enhanced unemployment insurance payments, which were extended last month and are currently slated to last until mid-March.
How will Biden convince Congress to pass this bill?
The Biden White House is looking for bipartisan support for its the COVID-relief package, which could mean significant changes to the legislation in order to attract more Republican support. This goal was also communicated to the congressional aides on Tuesday.
If Mr. Biden cannot reach a deal with Senate Republicans, this package could pass under reconciliation, a process sometimes used for spending measures. Under this approach, the bill would require only a simple majority to pass and would not be subject to being blocked by a filibuster. Most Senate bills require 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. This option would be used pass the Biden team’s framework with only Democratic votes. Once the Georgia Senate election results are certified, there will be a 50-50 split between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would break any ties. With Harris as the 51st vote, Democrats will control the Senate.
Mr. Biden is expected to outline his COVID-relief proposal on Thursday. A Biden transition official on Wednesday did not respond when asked for comment.
This legislation is likely to face intense lobbying from congressional members and special interests, which could affect the final price tag.
Some elements of the legislation, like the $2,000 stimulus payments for Americans, already have bipartisan support. Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida sent a letter Tuesday imploring Mr. Biden to include the bigger checks. The president-elect has called for the $2,000 checks for weeks now and campaigned on the issue in Georgia ahead of the January 5 Senate runoff elections.
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren sent a 15-page letter to Biden transition officials leading the COVID-19 response in which she called for more oversight of the federal government response to the pandemic. Warren wants to see increases in data collection and reporting of places with frequent COVID-19 clusters including assisted-living centers and behavior health clinics.
The incoming administration has been soliciting input on the legislation from state and local leaders. Biden staffers have been in “listening mode” with various governors’ offices to get their assessments of the COVID-19 response from the federal government. “We do get a different sense of urgency than the previous administration on addressing this and they are proactive about working collaboratively with the states,” one official in a Democratic governor’s office told CBS News.
Health and Human Services Secretary-designate Xavier Becerra, along with Dr. Vivek Murthy, who has been nominated to be surgeon general, and the head of the COVID Equity Task Force, Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, also recently met with a dozen faith leaders, who combined lead religious groups with tens of millions of members, in order to discuss equitable federal response in communities of color.
Two meeting attendees told CBS News the group discussed utilizing faith-based hospitals and clinics to increase access and confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine, particularly in places with “pharmacy deserts.” Specific plans to reach Americans skeptical of the vaccine were not outlined by the Biden team, two faith leaders told CBS News, but both said they were encouraged by the discussion.
One faith leader told CBS News its network is planning to lobby the Biden team to expand child tax credits.