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Biden’s relief plan faces resistance from both sides of the aisle

Republicans and some Democrats are pushing back against President Biden's $1.9 trillion relief plan meant to address a host of health and economic issues brought on by the pandemic. Heather Boushey, a member of the Biden administration's White House Council of Economic Advisers, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As Yamiche was reporting earlier, President Biden's $1.9 trillion economic stimulus plan is being met with some bipartisan resistance in the Congress.

    Heather Boushey is a member of the president's White House Council of Economic Advisers. And she joins us now from Washington.

    Heather Boushey, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    You were with us, what, about a week-and-a-half ago, when President Biden was still president-elect Biden.

    First thing I want to ask you about is the timetable, the president stressing today he wants to get this economic package passed as soon as possible. But we heard the Senate incoming majority leader, Chuck Schumer, say March, mid-March.

    Is Chuck Schumer's schedule the president's schedule?

  • Heather Boushey:

    Well, let me say, from the economic perspective, making sure that we have clarity, that we have the relief that we need for workers, for families, for communities, for state and local governments all across the country is the priority, to make sure that everyone knows what they can weather the storm of this crisis.

    Now, my understanding is that part of the reason that Senator Schumer is delaying until March is because many of the pieces don't expire because of the package passed in December. But I think it is really imperative that we act urgently on this package.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Let me ask you about some of the reporting from our colleagues and what we have been hearing from those senators who were on a call yesterday with White House officials, rolling out, trying to explain what is in this package.

    Several of the senators came out of that meeting yesterday and said they like some of what is here. They especially like what the president is trying to do with regard to money for more vaccine distribution, getting more of it out there faster. But they are still concerned about those $1,400 dollar direct payments.

    They are saying they are not targeted enough to people at the lower end of the income scale. Is the White House prepared to compromise on that?

  • Heather Boushey:

    Well, I think, at this point, it's still early days.

    But the important thing is that we make sure that we get that support out to all the families that need it. And part of the reason that direct payments can be so powerful is that, while you have unemployment benefits that go to those that are out of work, the direct payments go to families that might be struggling with additional costs.

    And so we want to make sure that we do reach everyone. I do think, though, that making sure that they are really focused on those in the most need is certainly important.

    But we do really just want to make sure that everyone who needs help gets access to it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We were also hearing from my colleagues Lisa Desjardins, Yamiche Alcindor reporting, there is opposition among some of these senators to the $15 minimum wage.

    How integral a part of the package is that? Is — we heard President Biden say today he is prepared to negotiate. Could you be in the end prepared to break this up into smaller packages?

  • Heather Boushey:

    Well, the minimum wage, raising it is certainly one of the promises that candidate Biden made to the American people.

    Minimum wage wasn't been increased in quite a long time, and especially, as we saw in 2020, so many of those essential workers, those grocery store clerks, the food delivery folks, the orderly that — the lowest-level folks in medical facilities, child care workers, these are folks that are disproportionately minimum wage workers and — or who would be affected by this increase.

    And so this is absolutely mission-critical in this economy, that we value them and show them just how much their work means.

    So, I think it's too early to say what exactly the compromise is, but the minimum wage is certainly an important piece of the puzzle.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Another comment we hear from out — I guess these are from more conservative commentators, but people who speak for the business community, is that it's all well and good to help those who are in need.

    But you have a number of people who own businesses who are struggling, who are looking at either their businesses dissolved or about to go under, and they worry there's not — or they complain there's not enough in here for those struggling business owners, small business owners.

    I think we may have an audio — can you hear me, Heather Boushey?

    Apologies. We're going to try to figure this out.

    Are you able to hear me, Heather Boushey?

  • Heather Boushey:

    I am. I'm able to hear you now. The Internet.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Apologies about that. I will make this — I will try to make it briefer.

    Small business owners, the argument is that they are struggling, they need help, too, that there's not enough help here for them.

  • Heather Boushey:

    Well, there was extensions of small business aid in the prior package. And the goal of the incoming administration is to make sure that those benefits get out and they reach all of the small businesses that need help, small businesses all across the country, especially focusing on making sure that businesses owned by women, people of color actually get the benefits this time around.

    And there's also, I think, a connection to the buy America executive order that the president signed today, where he's going to make sure that those small manufacturers actually have an opportunity to participate in government procurement.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we are having a little bit of difficulty. I'm going to ask you one other question.

    And, hopefully, we will be able to hear each other.

    You and the president both said it's important to go big, that the mistake would be not to do enough. And yet the pushback you're getting from the Congress is to go smaller.

    How small — how much smaller can you be prepared to go with this aid, and still make the difference you need to?

    Our apologies. We are dependent on the Internet, and, sometimes, it isn't there for us.

    Heather Boushey, a member of the president's Council of Economic Advisers, thank you so much for joining us.

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