Breakingviews - Biden’s $2 trln rescue tests his art of the deal

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden delivers remarks as Vice President-elect Kamala Harris looks on during a televised speech on the current economic and health crises at The Queen Theatre in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., January 14, 2021. REUTERS/Tom Brenner

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters Breakingviews) - The next U.S. president has a chance to test his own art of the deal. Joe Biden on Thursday announced an ambitious stimulus plan, including additional $1,400 payments for individuals. It also includes liberal causes like boosting the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. With the slimmest Democratic control of a 50-50 Senate, Biden will have to compromise.

He said the United States needs to act to prevent people from going hungry and being evicted from their homes. He wants to give additional checks to those making up to $75,000 a year, on top of the $600 Congress passed in December. Supplemental jobless benefits would also increase, to $400 a week.

Biden’s vice president, Kamala Harris, is set to cast tie-breaking votes if the Senate splits on party lines starting next week. However, most meaningful legislation needs 60 votes in the 100-member chamber to overcome a so-called filibuster, which allows senators to prevent a vote if they continue speaking for long enough.

The ailing economy, newly hurt by a surge in Covid-19 infections, bolsters Biden’s case. Weekly unemployment claims jumped by 181,000 to 965,000 last week. In December, the country lost 140,000 jobs, reversing the recovery that had been under way. Republican Senator Marco Rubio and others in his party have already said they support increasing direct payments.

Ratcheting up minimum wages and other broad progressive measures will be a harder sell. Biden’s plan also doesn’t include any tax increases or other ways to pay for the aid. That could irk Republicans who rediscover their belief in fiscal discipline under a new president. It’s also unclear whether moderate Democrats like Joe Manchin, who has expressed concern about federal debt, will be on board with the full package.

Unlike his predecessor, Biden has embraced working with the opposing party and his campaign made much of his long history in Washington. But even since his stint as Barack Obama’s vice president, divisions have intensified, evidenced by the storming of the Capitol building last week by Trump supporters.

Biden will have to give up some of his wish list, and for much of the rest he will have to prove that reaching out to political opponents is not just a quaint idea from a bygone era.


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