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Biden Unveils $1.9T COVID, Economy Plan01/15 06:55

   President-elect Joe Biden has unveiled a $1.9 trillion coronavirus plan to 
end "a crisis of deep human suffering" by speeding up vaccines and pumping out 
financial help to those struggling with the pandemic's prolonged economic 
fallout.

   WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) -- President-elect Joe Biden has unveiled a $1.9 
trillion coronavirus plan to end "a crisis of deep human suffering" by speeding 
up vaccines and pumping out financial help to those struggling with the 
pandemic's prolonged economic fallout.

   Called the "American Rescue Plan," the legislative proposal would meet 
Biden's goal of administering 100 million vaccines by the 100th day of his 
administration, and advance his objective of reopening most schools by the 
spring. On a parallel track, it delivers another round of aid to stabilize the 
economy while the public health effort seeks the upper hand on the pandemic.

   "We not only have an economic imperative to act now --- I believe we have a 
moral obligation," Biden said in a nationwide address Thursday. At the same 
time, he acknowledged that his plan "does not come cheaply."

   Biden proposed $1,400 checks for most Americans, which on top of $600 
provided in the most recent COVID-19 bill would bring the total to the $2,000 
that Biden has called for. It would also extend a temporary boost in 
unemployment benefits and a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures through 
September.

   And it shoehorns in long-term Democratic policy aims such as increasing the 
minimum wage to $15 an hour, expanding paid leave for workers, and increasing 
tax credits for families with children. The last item would make it easier for 
women to go back to work, which in turn would help the economy recover.

   The political outlook for the legislation remained unclear. In a joint 
statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck 
Schumer praised Biden for including liberal priorities, saying they would move 
quickly to pass it after Biden takes office next Wednesday. But Democrats have 
narrow margins in both chambers of Congress, and Republicans will push back on 
issues that range from increasing the minimum wage to providing more money for 
states, while demanding inclusion of their priorities, such as liability 
protection for businesses.

   "Remember that a bipartisan $900 billion #COVID19 relief bill became law 
just 18 days ago," tweeted Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. But Biden says that was 
only a down payment, and he promised more major legislation next month, focused 
on rebuilding the economy.

   "The crisis of deep human suffering is in plain sight, and there's not time 
to waste," Biden said. "We have to act and we have to act now."

   Still, he sought to manage expectations. "We're better equipped to do this 
than any nation in the world," he said. "But even with all these small steps, 
it's going to take time."

   His relief bill would be paid for with borrowed money, adding to trillions 
in debt the government has already incurred to confront the pandemic. Aides 
said Biden will make the case that the additional spending and borrowing is 
necessary to prevent the economy from sliding into an even deeper hole. 
Interest rates are low, making debt more manageable.

   Biden has long held that economic recovery is inextricably linked with 
controlling the coronavirus.

   That squares with the judgment of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the most 
powerful business lobbying group and traditionally an adversary of Democrats. 
"We must defeat COVID before we can restore our economy and that requires 
turbocharging our vaccination efforts," the Chamber said in a statement 
Thursday night that welcomed Biden's plan but stopped short of endorsing it.

   The plan comes as a divided nation is in the grip of the pandemic's most 
dangerous wave yet. So far, more than 385,000 people have died of COVID-19 in 
the U.S. And government numbers out Thursday reported a jump in weekly 
unemployment claims, to 965,000, a sign that rising infections are forcing 
businesses to cut back and lay off workers.

   Under Biden's multipronged strategy, about $400 billion would go directly to 
combating the pandemic, while the rest is focused on economic relief and aid to 
states and localities.

   About $20 billion would be allocated for a more disciplined focus on 
vaccination, on top of some $8 billion already approved by Congress. Biden has 
called for setting up mass vaccination centers and sending mobile units to 
hard-to-reach areas.

   To that end, Biden on Friday announced former FDA chief David Kessler as his 
chief science officer for the vaccine drive. Kessler has been advising Biden as 
a co-chair of his advisory board on the coronavirus pandemic. A pediatrician 
and attorney, he has emphasized the need to ease public concerns about the 
safety of the coronavirus vaccines. Confidence in the FDA's review process is 
critical to ramping up the effort to vaccinate millions of Americans.

   With the backing of Congress and the expertise of private and government 
scientists, the Trump administration delivered two highly effective vaccines 
and more are on the way. Yet a month after the first shots were given, the 
nation's vaccination campaign is off to a slow start with about 11 million 
people getting the first of two shots, although more than 30 million doses have 
been delivered.

   Biden called the vaccine rollout "a dismal failure so far" and said he would 
provide more details about his vaccination campaign on Friday.

   The plan also provides $50 billion to expand testing, which is seen as key 
to reopening most schools by the end of the new administration's first 100 
days. About $130 billion would be allocated to help schools reopen without 
risking further contagion.

   The plan would fund the hiring of 100,000 public health workers, to focus on 
encouraging people to get vaccinated and on tracing the contacts of those 
infected with the coronavirus.

   There's also a proposal to boost investment in genetic sequencing, to help 
track new virus strains including the more contagious variants identified in 
the United Kingdom and South Africa.

   Throughout the plan, there's a focus on ensuring that minority communities 
that have borne the brunt of the pandemic are not shortchanged on vaccines and 
treatments, aides said.

   With the new proposals comes a call to redouble efforts on the basics.

   Biden is asking Americans to override their sense of pandemic fatigue and 
recommit to wearing masks, practicing social distancing and avoiding indoor 
gatherings, particularly larger ones. It's still the surest way to slow the 
COVID-19 wave, with more than 4,400 deaths reported just on Tuesday.

   Biden's biggest challenge will be to "win the hearts and minds of the 
American people to follow his lead," said Dr. Leana Wen, a public health expert 
and emergency physician.

   The pace of vaccination in the U.S. is approaching 1 million shots a day, 
but 1.8 million a day would be needed to reach widespread or "herd" immunity by 
the summer, according to a recent estimate by the American Hospital 
Association. Wen says the pace should be even higher --- closer to 3 million a 
day.

   Biden believes the key to speeding that up lies not only in delivering more 
vaccine but also in working closely with states and local communities to get 
shots into the arms of more people. The Trump administration provided the 
vaccine to states and set guidelines for who should get priority for shots, but 
largely left it up to state and local officials to organize their vaccination 
campaigns.

   It's still unclear how the new administration will address the issue of 
vaccine hesitancy, the doubts and suspicions that keep many people from getting 
a shot. Polls show it's particularly a problem among Black Americans.

   "We will have to move heaven and earth to get more people vaccinated," Biden 
said.

   Next Wednesday, when Biden is sworn in as president, marks the anniversary 
of the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the United States.

 
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