Joe Biden said on Friday that Congress needs to “act now” on his $1.9tn Covid-19 relief proposal, even without Republican support, adding that most economists believe additional economic stimulus is needed.
“We have to act now,” the president told reporters at the White House. “There is an overwhelming consensus among economists … that this is a unique moment and the cost of inaction is high.”
Biden later said he supported passing Covid-19 relief with or without Republican help.
“I support passing Covid relief with support from Republicans, if we can get it. But the Covid relief has to pass with no ifs, ands or buts,” Biden said.
This suggests that even as Biden has stressed the importance of bipartisanship and reaching out to moderate Republican lawmakers, his tolerance for opposition has its limits.
Biden spoke as Democrats who lead the US Senate and House of Representatives prepared to take the first steps next week toward delivering fresh assistance to Americans and businesses reeling from a pandemic that has killed more than 433,000 people.
Congress enacted $4tn in Covid-19 relief last year.
On Thursday, the Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, said the sharply divided chamber would begin work on robust legislation next week, despite misgivings among Republicans and some Democrats about the size of Biden’s proposal.
With the 100-seat Senate split 50-50 and Kamala Harris, the vice-president, wielding the tie-breaking vote, Democrats are preparing to use a parliamentary tool called “reconciliation” that would allow the chamber to approve Covid-19 relief with a simple majority. Because of Senate rules, legislation usually requires 60 votes to pass in the chamber.
“There is no time for any delays,” Biden said on Friday. “We could end up with 4m fewer jobs this year … It could take a year longer to return to full employment if we don’t act and don’t act now.“
The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, predicted on Thursday that both chambers of Congress would be ready to move forward through reconciliation by the end of next week.