“Let me ask them: What would they have me cut? What would they have me leave out?” Biden asked. “Should we not invest $20 billion to vaccinate the nation? Should we not invest $290 (billion) to extend unemployment insurance for the 11 million Americans who are unemployed so they can get by while they get back to work? Should we not invest $50 billion to help small businesses stay open, when tens of thousands have had to close permanently? … Should we not invest $130 (billion) to help schools across the nation open safely?”
With many parents focused on how to get their children back to in-person classes, Biden and his aides have highlighted the nearly $130 billion that the plan would provide to K-12 schools to help them pay for safety modifications that the administration hopes will allow more schools to reopen.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Washington Democrat who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, has argued that the current economic conditions and makeup of the Senate have created progressives’ best opportunity to achieve their long-held goal of increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour.
When asked whether she would support the Covid-19 relief package without the minimum wage increase, Jayapal simply said she believed the measure will be included.
“I don’t think we’re going to have to make that decision, and I think we’re going to have to fight hard for it,” she said.
In a preview of the arguments Republicans will make this week, GOP leaders in the House have already begun urging their members to vote against the bill, calling it the “Payoff to Progressives Act.” In an email to members Friday obtained by CNN, the office of House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, the No. 2 House Republican, argued that Democrats have rushed the legislation to the floor — and said it will bail out blue states while “paying people not to work.”
On Sunday, Scalise highlighted the cost of the package when asked to explain the lack of Republican support for the bill. During an interview with ABC’s “This Week,” Scalise said Republicans would balk at the fact that “there’s over a trillion dollars of money unspent from previous relief bills that were bipartisan.”
“The money is still sitting in a bank account and we’re going to pass 1.9 trillion of additional spending to bail out failed states, to raise the minimum wage?” Scalise said on ABC. “What’s that have to do with Covid? It should be focused on helping families and small business that are struggling, not bankrupting our children.”
Biden is looking to overcome those Republican objections by continuing to appeal directly to the American people this week. And Republicans’ objections over the next week carry some risk, given the popularity of the legislation.
Speaking in Michigan on Friday, Biden said he was open to ideas about how to “make the package better and make it cheaper.”
“My hope is that the Republicans in Congress listen to their constituents,” he said. Americans, he added, “want us to act, and act big and quickly and support the plan.”
This story has been updated with additional details.
Arlette Saenz contributed to this report.