Is there still hope of finding a stimulus check in your stocking this year?
President-elect Joe Biden seems to hope so.
Biden was speaking in Wilmington, Delaware after the announcement Friday morning that the U.S. economy added just 245,000 jobs in November, pushing the unemployment rate to 6.7% from 6.9% in October. That was far lower than the 440,000 jobs economists had been predicting, and was read as a sign that the economic recovery has stalled.
On the topic of stimulus, Biden said that we need to “step up now” and if we don’t act, “the future will be very bleak,” he told reporters. Biden said he was “encouraged ” by the bipartisan effort in the Senate. Earlier, on Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said the compromise bill could be a starting point for talks between Democrats and Republicans, who have been at an impasse since the summer over the size of an economic rescue bill.
As Fortune‘s Lance Lambert and Anne Sraders have been reporting, the new bipartisan bill would “set aside $180 billion to pay out weekly $300 enhanced unemployment benefits, which would be paid on top of state benefits. That would replace the weekly $600 enhanced unemployment benefits which expired in late July. In addition, the package would include $82 billion for education, $45 billion for transportation such as airlines, and $25 billion in housing assistance.”
Biden stressed that stimulus and stopping the virus are intertwined: “Emergency relief helps stem the spread of COVID because it allows people to say home when they are sick,” he said, adding that “the sooner we pass the funding the sooner we can turn the corner on COVID 19.”
When asked about reports that progressive Democrats such as Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wanted to see direct payments as part of the bill, Biden replied: “It would be better if they had the $1200, that may be still in play.”
Ocasio-Cortez tweeted Friday: “Canada did $2,000/monthly. The US is the richest nation on earth and a 2nd stimulus check is getting blocked bc GOP want corporate bailouts & austerity in ‘exchange’ for it. Maybe if everyone in the US incorporated as an LLC, Mitch McConnell would actually do something for them.”
In his remarks, Biden nodded to the fact that has plenty of experience negotiating behind the scenes between the two parties, and felt confident an agreement could be reached. However, many onlookers have been highly skeptical that Republicans would get on board with direct payments. As Tom Porcelli, chief U.S. economist at RBC Capital Markets, recently told Fortune: “I think [more stimulus checks are] going to be a very hard sell,” and if the two runoff Senate seats in Georgia leave control of the Senate in Republican hands in January, “I think that’s almost a nonstarter.”
Interestingly, direct payments were one of the areas Democrats and the White House initially agreed upon, but more fiscally-conservative Republicans have left stimulus checks out of a recent “skinny stimulus” bill, which failed to pass the Senate twice. With time running out to pass a bill this year, Biden also cautioned that not everyone is going to get everything they want, and that when you insist on everything you can end up with nothing.
Optimistically, Biden promised that whatever happens this round, this stimulus bill is a “down payment” with “more to come early next year.”