What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Biden’s economic adviser on pandemic relief: ‘We can’t afford to wait another few months’

President Biden appears ready to continue the push for his $1.9 trillion pandemic relief plan a day after he met with Senate Republicans to discuss its size and scope. Jared Bernstein, who was appointed to the White House Council of Economic Advisers, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the Biden administration’s stance on the plan.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now, for the Biden administration's take on the state of COVID relief talks, we're joined by Jared Bernstein. He is a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

    Jared Bernstein, good to see you. Thank you for being with us.

    I want to ask you first about a report that came out yesterday by the Congressional Budget Office forecasting that the U.S. economy is going to recover rapidly by the middle of this year, which raises the question, does the government need to spend as much money as the administration is proposing to boost the economy?

  • Jared Bernstein:

    Yes, that's a really fair and important question.

    What that CBO report showed is that, in the second half of this year, GDP would grow at about 4 percent. That's a good GDP growth rate. However, for far too many families, both throughout this crisis and even before this crisis, GDP growth has been a spectator sport.

    They have fallen behind even as the economy has expanded. This is often discussed under the rubric of economic inequality or racial injustice. And it's one of the huge motivating factors for President Biden and Vice President Harris when they campaigned.

    Now, these inequities have been laid bare by this crisis, by this pandemic. It has been disproportionately felt by workers on the bottom leg of that K. You know, we talk about a K-shaped recovery, with folks at the top who never missed a paycheck doing fine, and tens of millions of folks at the bottom who have been beset by both the health and economic crisis.

    The American Rescue Plan targets that bottom leg of the K, along with virus control and vaccine distribution, to engender an inclusive recovery, not just a GDP number that doesn't reach many who need it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, let me — several points to ask you about, and I'm going to move quickly.

    But it is reported today, Jared Bernstein, that the president told this group of Democratic senators he — I'm sorry — Republican senators he met with last night that he gave them the clear indication he's willing to look at lowering the price tag overall.

    Is that true, number one? And, number two, how far?

  • Jared Bernstein:

    So, when I hear Joe Biden talk about this plan, I don't think he's referring to a top-line price tag.

    What he's talking about is, as quickly and as efficiently as possible, meeting the urgency of this crisis. He's talked about the cost of inaction in terms of jobs, in terms of kids out of school, in terms of parents who can't go back into the job market, in terms of numbers you yourself have mentioned, the one million people who claimed unemployment just last week, a bigger number than throughout the heart of the Great Recession.

    Now, in terms of price tag, the president is not going to settle for any package that fails to meet the urgency of the moment to get shots into arms, to get school reopened, to get people back to work, to preserve businesses, to distribute the vaccine.

    And the American Rescue Plan is scaled to meet that challenge. What the president has said to Republicans is, come in all day and we will talk about better, more efficient ways to meet that challenge, but we're not going to dial back the goals of this plan.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I hear you. So, you're not — I hear you saying it's important, but you're not wedded to that 1.9.

    But what I want to ask you is something that Senator Barrasso raised, which is, Congress passed aid last month in the hundreds of billions of dollars. And he's saying that money isn't — hasn't gotten out of the pipeline into people's pocketbooks yet. Why rush? Why not wait for that money to go out and see what's needed?

  • Jared Bernstein:

    Because the American people cannot afford another episode of wait and see.

    I agreed with a lot of what Mr. Barrasso said. A lot of it resonated with me. I thought he had a sense of urgency, until he started talking about wait and see.

    Yes, we have passed the bill in December, and that is helping people, but that bill ends — many of the components of that bill end in March. And what we did last year is, Congress did this wait-and-see exercise — this was before the December bill — they did this wait and see exercise, and what happened?

    Families lost work. Jobs began to decline. Consumer spending, which is 70 percent of this economy, actually contracted in November and December, before that plan went into effect. We have to get ahead of this.

    The virus will only be beat, we will only put behind us, we will only produce and distribute the vaccines if we help states and localities do what these to be done. And we can't afford to wait another few months to see how this is going to work out. That way, we fall behind the curve.

    Passing the American Rescue Plan as soon as possible gets us ahead of the curve, finally, so that we can finally launch a robust, inclusive and racially equitable recovery.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So much more to ask you, Jared Bernstein.

    Quick question, yes or no. Is this — is it possible that families earning a quarter-of-a-million dollars a year could end up benefiting from this aid, yes or no?

  • Jared Bernstein:

    I think that the discussions that are happening — the ongoing discussions right now are very much about dealing with that targeting issue.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, a subject to continue to ask you about.

    Jared Bernstein, thank you very much.

  • Jared Bernstein:

    Thank you.

Listen to this Segment