WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - President-elect Joe Biden endorsed a US$908 billion (S$1.2 trillion) stimulus proposal by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, saying it "wouldn't be the answer" but would provide immediate relief to those suffering from the Covid recession.
Mr Biden, speaking to a virtual roundtable of workers and small-business owners affected by the virus-related downturn, called on Congress Wednesday (Dec 2) to pass a robust Covid-relief bill in the lame-duck session, which he said would "at best only be a down payment" on a more comprehensive bill once he takes office.
But he said the bipartisan bill appears unlikely to pass as long as President Donald Trump remains in office. "So it's now back to square one again," he said.
He was candid about his own limitations in getting a bill passed before he takes office. "To state the obvious, my ability to get you help immediately does not exist," he told workers who had described their difficulties one by one.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer also threw their support behind the proposal Wednesday, saying it should be the "framework" for negotiations with their Republican counterparts.
Their endorsement of the plan drawn up by a group of House and Senate lawmakers marks the first public retreat from their backing of a much larger $2.4 trillion pandemic relief package - and could break six months of stalemate in time to get a bill passed before the end of the year.
Mr Biden said any legislative package in the lame-duck session should include an extension of unemployment insurance, resources for small businesses to open safely, an eviction moratorium and aid to state and local governments.
"This isn't a political game," he said. "We need to get help out the door as soon as we can."
But he said Republicans seemed more focused on a provision "guaranteeing there's no liability for businesses if in fact they open and anything happens."
Mr Biden was also critical of the way previous relief efforts were administered, and he criticised big banks for not lending to small businesses who weren't pre-existing customers.
"One of the big problems was that help went to a lot of people who didn't need the help," he said. "It didn't go to the people who badly needed it early on. Some of it did, but not nearly what it should have."
Mr Biden also made a grim prediction that the US would nearly double the number of Covid deaths if Americans let their guard down over the holidays.
"I don't want to scare anybody here but understand the facts: we're likely to lose another 250,000 people dead between now and January, because people aren't paying attention," he said.