What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Biden unveils $1.9 trillion plan to address crises on multiple fronts

President-elect Joe Biden on Thursday unveiled a major legislative package to address the twin health and economic crises now facing his administration. The $1.9 trillion plan would bolster funding for states, schools and small business, among other proposals. Heather Boushey, an incoming member of the Biden administration's White House Council of Economic Advisers, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Besides these immediate security concerns, when president-elect Joe Biden takes office next week, he will also be facing the enormous challenge of the coronavirus pandemic.

    Last night, Biden unveiled a major legislative package to address the twin health and economic crises that have spun from the pandemic. His $1.9 trillion plan includes $1,400 in additional direct payments to taxpayers, $400 per week in unemployment benefits through September, $400 billion to help fight COVID-19 and reopen schools, and $440 billion in aid for states, cities and small businesses.

    Last night, he spoke about the urgent need for the federal government to help stem further economic fallout from the crisis.

  • President-elect Joe Biden:

    I know what I just described does not come cheaply, but failure to do so will cost us dearly. The consensus among leading economists is, we simply cannot afford not to do what I'm proposing.

    If we invest now boldly, smartly, and with unwavering focus on American workers and families, we will strengthen our economy, reduce inequity, and put our nation's long-term finances on the most sustainable course.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We want to begin tonight looking into president-elect Biden's plan.

    And for that, we turn to Heather Boushey, appointed by him to become a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

    Heather Boushey, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    This is a lot of money, $1.9 trillion, on top of the trillions that were dished out by the federal government last year. Why is so much money necessary?

  • Heather Boushey:

    Well, Judy, thank you so much for the question.

    Let's step back and look at the situation that we're in. We continue to have an economy that is in crisis because of this pandemic. And while we have taken serious steps, the pandemic still rages, and millions of people are out of work as a result.

    So, the package that the president-elect talked about last night focuses first and foremost on containing the virus, doing the things that we need to do to get schools to reopen safely, to make sure that the vaccine is distributed equitably and all those things, while making sure that families and businesses in communities all across the country have the support they need to weather this crisis and come out on the other side just as strong, if not stronger.

    So, we need to continue to help folks through this crisis, and that is why we have this package in front of us today.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I'm sure you know, Heather Boushey, that a number of Republicans and even some Democrats, like Joe Manchin of West Virginia in the Senate, are saying, it's all well and good, but it's money that is not targeted enough, the additional $1,400 in direct payments, and it is asking the government to go even deeper — a government already in debt to go even deeper in debt.

    What happens if Congress cuts back on this proposal, doesn't give you as much as you're saying is necessary, frankly, the way Congress cut back on what President Obama was asking for in 2009, and you were part of that administration?

  • Heather Boushey:

    Well, let me tell you, right now, the risks of doing too little are far greater than the risks of doing too much.

    And that's one of the lessons that we take from the last decade, that, in this moment of crisis, we need to make sure that we keep the economy running. The costs of inaction will be greater than the debt that we will incur as a result of taking actions today.

    You think of the millions of people who are out of work, the extent to which they don't have income through this period of employment, which is no fault of their own, because of the pandemic, that is then leading to businesses all across our economy who aren't seeing customers.

    And so, by helping them, by helping those small businesses stay afloat, we're making sure that our economy is on a stronger footing going forward.

    So, I think that looking back over the past decade is really an a smart and important thing to do, and so many economists have. And the consensus, I think, really at this point is, doing too little is the greater risk.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We are seeing more and more economists, as they look ahead to this year, say, yes, the first part of the year is going to be really tough, but they are forecasting, if, by the middle of the year, more people get vaccinated, that we are going to see economic growth take off, that we could end up with more than 4 percent growth overall in this year, 2021.

    Do you share that outlook?

  • Heather Boushey:

    Well, I have been spending a lot of time listening to the health experts.

    And I know that, just like 2020, where we are starting 2021 is a place of great uncertainty about what's to come, right? We know that we have this new strain of the virus that's more contagious, and while we have the vaccines, the distribution rollout has been too slow so far.

    So, we need to make sure that we're taking steps now to make sure that aid is available, that we're supporting communities, local governments, small businesses, so that, hopefully, we do get to that stronger economy in the latter half of the year, that we do put in the time and the investment to make sure that everybody gets this vaccine, that we do put in the time and the investment to make sure that we're making schools safe to reopen, so that we get there.

    But I think that the big uncertainty now is, will we be able to get to that higher growth place? and that really requires that we take action now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Heather Boushey, you have written, you have spoken a great deal about the need to not only address economic growth, but also to address the pronounced and growing economic inequality in this country.

    How will the Biden administration do that, at a time when there are so many stresses around us?

  • Heather Boushey:

    Oh, I'm so glad you ask that question, Judy.

    You know, one of the things we saw in 2020 is that it showed us what inequality looks like. It showed us how a pandemic was hardest-hit among the lowest-income families, families of color, workers of color all across the economy. It showed us where our vulnerabilities were and how, by not attending to that, it made our entire economy and our society weaker, and it's made it harder to recover from this virus.

    So, as we look forward, this package, this American Rescue Plan, really is a down payment on addressing economic inequality and addressing systemic racial injustices in our economy.

    As you look at each piece of the package, they are targeted at making sure that those who need the most help get the most assistance. One of the things that I'm really happy to talk about is that scholars at Columbia University have just come out with some estimates that this package this year will cut child poverty in half, and it will reduce poverty among Black families by a third.

    So, the package that the president-elect talked about last night really is a down payment on addressing some of these incredibly important economic inequalities.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, finally, in a nutshell, what is it going to take in the way of higher taxes, higher revenues, in order to pay for some of these things that you have been describing? What income level is going to be hit and what kind of tax?

  • Heather Boushey:

    Well, that is certainly a very important question.

    So, for right now, we can afford to — spending this package through deficit financing. But you're right. Moving forward, we are going to have to think about the fiscal situation. During the campaign the, president-elect outlined a whole series of tax increases focused primarily on those at the very top.

    He committed to not raising taxes for those making less than $400,000 during the campaign, and making sure that we fix the tax system and make it more fair, while, at the same time, encouraging domestic production, encouraging businesses to produce goods and services here at home and to make sure the workers are fairly paid.

    So, there's a lot of different options there. That's not tonight's problem, but it's certainly something that we're going to be talking about in the weeks and months to come.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we look forward to having those conversations with you and asking those questions.

    Heather Boushey, incoming member of President — will be President Biden's Council of Economic Advisers, thank you very much.

  • Heather Boushey:

    Thank you.

Listen to this Segment