Biden to unveil economic plan as US recovery buckles under Covid-19 crisis

Mr Biden's stimulus is likely to build on the two massive relief packages Congress approved in 2020.
Mr Biden's stimulus is likely to build on the two massive relief packages Congress approved in 2020.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - President-elect Joe Biden on Thursday (Jan 14) will unveil his plan to revive the US economy, as evidence mounts that its recovery from the coronavirus pandemic is flagging despite trillions of dollars in government spending.

With his fellow Democrats narrowly controlling both houses of Congress, Mr Biden appears to have a good shot at passing a third massive rescue package that could include everything from another round of stimulus payments to tax hikes on the rich to an increase in the minimum wage.

"We need more direct relief flowing to families (and) small businesses, including finishing the job of getting people the US$2,000 (S$2,651) in relief," Mr Biden said last week, referring to the last package that provided payments of US$600 in direct payments.

The funds could help revitalise a recovery that appears to be buckling under the weight of the nationwide surge in Covid-19 cases.

The latest government data shows the economy shedding jobs in December and weekly layoffs continuing at a pace above the worst of the 2008-2010 global financial crisis.

Mr Biden will take office on Wednesday after a tumultuous transition that saw violent supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump invade the US Capitol as lawmakers were meeting to certify the Democrat's election victory.

Mr Biden's stimulus is likely to build on the two massive relief packages Congress approved in 2020, and include an extension of unemployment benefits that have helped tens of millions of people pay their bills after losing their jobs during the pandemic.

He pledged last week to provide aid to US municipalities that may have to fire thousands of teachers, police officers and firefighters across the country, and more help to small businesses, especially minority-owned firms.

The president-elect called the US$600 stimulus cheques included in the aid package approved in the final days of December "simply not enough", and said he will push to raise the payments.

But with only the slimmest of majorities in Congress - including an evenly split Senate where Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris will have the tie-breaking vote - Democrats will have to woo some Republicans if any in their party break ranks.

Mr Joe Manchin, a Democratic senator of the party's moderate wing, already has made comments in US media indicating he is hesitant to support US$2,000 cheques.

That would be an early test for Mr Biden, who promised more relief to Georgia voters who gave two crucial Senate seats to Democrats in a runoff election last week.

The package that Mr Biden is expected to propose could amount to trillions of dollars in spending, but Mr Michael Feroli of JP Morgan predicted that Congress could pare it down to the US$900 billion range, matching the measure approved last month.

Nonetheless, that amount would help boost gross domestic product growth this year to 5.3 per cent and to 2.6 per cent in 2022, a "remarkable expected turnaround" aided also by negligible inflation and the Federal Reserve's maintenance of low borrowing rates.