signed the $1.9 trillion coronavirus aid package into law Thursday, as he and Republican leaders in Congress began competing to shape voters’ perceptions of Mr. Biden’s first big legislative win and the early days of his presidency.
The new law will provide a $1,400 check to many Americans, with the first direct payments deposited into bank accounts as soon as this weekend. It will extend a $300 weekly jobless-aid supplement and expand the child tax credit for one year. It also will distribute money to schools, and state and local governments, and fund vaccination efforts along with offering support to multiemployer pensions and increasing subsidies for people who buy into health plans under the Affordable Care Act.
“This historic legislation is about rebuilding the backbone of this country,” Mr. Biden said in the Oval Office on Thursday afternoon, one day after the bill passed the House.
The president gave an address Thursday evening, laying out a plan for getting the pandemic under control one year after much of the U.S. economy slowed severely as the virus spread. Mr. Biden directed states to make all American adults eligible by May 1 to sign up to receive a vaccine and said that families and friends could gather in small groups to celebrate Independence Day if they continue to take steps to prevent the spread of the virus.
“There is hope and light and better days ahead if we all do our part,” Mr. Biden said.
The White House plans to host a ceremonial gathering with congressional leaders on Friday to celebrate the signing.
The president and Democrats are emphasizing the importance of expanding the government’s safety net during a pandemic and of boosting a nascent economic recovery with massive assistance from Washington.
Republicans, who have remained united in opposition to the aid package, are focusing on the fact that the economy is already pulling out of the doldrums and are portraying the new law less as a relief package than an expensive embrace of longtime Democratic priorities.
Both parties are seeking to frame public perception of the law in the early stages of the administration, leading into the November 2022 midterm elections. Those typically go against the party in power, posing a test to Democrats’ slender hold on the House and Senate.
The Biden administration plans a substantial promotional push. The president will return to campaign in battleground states next week, with stops in suburban Philadelphia on Tuesday and Atlanta on Friday, while Vice President
plans to visit Las Vegas and Denver next week and join Mr. Biden in Atlanta.
White House aides said the tour would include appearances by Mr. Biden with Republican mayors and governors. Some state and local GOP leaders, such as Gov. Jim Justice of West Virginia and Miami Mayor
have already expressed support.
“We will spend some time both in explaining and in deepening the understanding of what’s inside this package around the country,” said White House counselor
Republicans contend that showing voters what is in the package will be effective—for them.
“We believe the American people need to learn more and more about it and we’re going to see that they do that in the coming months,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday, calling the measure a “classic example of big-government Democratic overreach in the name of Covid relief.”
GOP leaders didn’t present a full-fledged alternative to the Democratic plan, though a group of Republican senators offered a $618 billion package and some individual Republicans made proposals on the minimum wage and child tax credit.
Republicans have criticized the price tag of Mr. Biden’s bill, coming after Congress authorized about $4 trillion in relief last year. They point out that checks will be issued to people who have not lost jobs or income, that money will be spent on schools in future years and that funding is going to state and local governments even though the pandemic damage to their revenues wasn’t as serious as expected.
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“Run a poll and say, ‘Would you like the government to send you a big check?’ My guess is that’s going to poll pretty well,” said
Sen. John Kennedy
(R., La.). “But why are we sending checks to people who have never missed a paycheck?”
a Republican strategist, said that the bill included spending unrelated to coronavirus. “You have money for museums in there—not that that’s not an important expenditure at some point, but is it part of Covid?’’ Republicans will tell voters that they voted to help people struggling in the pandemic but drew the line at unrelated spending, he said.
Mr. Biden’s team has countered that the plan is popular with voters, pointing to public opinion polls. The bill drew 70% support among adults in a Pew Research Center survey this month, including 41% of Republicans, and it garnered more than 60% support in two polls released Wednesday, by Monmouth University and CNN.
Democrats are keenly aware of what they consider a failed effort to sell former President
stimulus effort in 2009, which Republicans derided as bloated and wasteful, and the Affordable Care Act a year later. Mr. Obama’s party suffered sweeping losses in the 2010 midterm elections, a fate Mr. Biden hopes to avoid.
“Barack was so modest, he didn’t want to take, as he said, a ‘victory lap,’” Mr. Biden told House Democrats during a virtual meeting last week. “I kept saying, ‘Tell people what we did.’ He said, ‘We don’t have time. I’m not going to take a victory lap.’ And we paid a price for it, ironically, for that humility.”
Jen O’Malley Dillon,
White House deputy chief of staff, said in a memo that the administration would seek to highlight 10 aspects of the plan, including funding for vaccinations, direct payments to individuals up to a specified income threshold, financial aid to accelerate school opening, rental and mortgage assistance, and help for small businesses.
Some of the provisions in the bill are temporary. Enhanced unemployment benefits run through September. Additional subsidies for people who buy Affordable Care Act plans will expire after two years. The expanded child tax credit expires after a year. Democrats, who believe the expanded tax credit will be popular, are aiming to make the change permanent, potentially putting Republicans in the uncomfortable position of opposing it.
Mr. Biden will hold the first formal news conference of his presidency later in the month. In the coming weeks, he will address a joint session of Congress. One step Mr. Biden won’t be taking, which his predecessor did: Adding his signature to the memorandum line of the stimulus checks expected to be sent to qualifying Americans later this month.
At stake is the balance of power in Washington come the midterm elections in 2022. The party that holds the White House typically loses seats. Democrats, for example, lost more than 60 House seats in Mr. Obama’s first midterm, in 2010, and Republicans lost more than 40 seats in 2018, former President
Democrats will be defending a narrow majority in the House and 50-50 control in the Senate, where the vice president currently casts any tiebreaking votes. In the Senate, Republicans will be defending 20 seats, including in states such as Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Ohio where GOP incumbents have announced retirements. Democrats need to defend a smaller slate of 14 seats, but they include seats representing presidential battleground states such as Georgia, Arizona and Nevada.
Republicans are expected to argue that, right from his first major legislative push, Mr. Biden abandoned the bipartisanship that he touted in the campaign, noting that Republican suggestions were rejected. “Frankly, what this really is is a lot of payoffs to special interests that the Democrats want. And that’s why they wanted zero Republican input,” said
Rep. Don Bacon
The White House says the administration was willing to hear Republican input, but not to delay what they saw as an urgent process. “Republicans can be really tone deaf to the economic hardship that literally tens and tens and tens of millions are going through right now,” said
Mr. Biden’s campaign pollster. “This is a lifeline.”
Polling also suggests Republicans worry about the bill’s effect on the national debt, but that the concern isn’t widely shared. In the Pew Research Center survey, 61% of Republicans, but only 33% of Americans overall, said they believed the bill spent too much money.
Gene Ulm, a Republican pollster who works largely for House candidates, said: “I think the bill’s best day for Democrats is right now, and every day further it will be on a decline.”
Rep. Brendan Boyle
(D., Pa.) praised the White House promotion of the bill, calling it key between now and the midterms, lest voters forget.
“I wouldn’t say worry, but the one concern I have is if it’s a year and 8 months from now and we’ve done such a good job on vaccine distribution and such a good job on reviving things, sometimes people have short memories,” he said.
and Andrew Restuccia contributed to this article.
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