The economy was bad, and the White House planned to go big.
On the day the mammoth $800 billion Recovery Act became law, however, the new president took care to stress how his administration would keep a close eye on every dollar going out the door. This task of providing oversight, Barack Obama announced at the bill’s 2009 signing ceremony, would go to Joe Biden.
“To you, he's Mr. Vice President,” Obama quipped to a room that included more than one skeptical Republican lawmaker. “But around the White House, we call him the sheriff.”
In a few days, the country will call him Mr. President. A decade later, Biden confronts a deeper economic crisis, this one brought on by a global pandemic, and the incoming executive has proposed a $1.9 trillion stimulus package meant to buoy families and communities and small businesses as his administration pushes to step up distribution of the coronavirus vaccines.
All that old sheriff has to do now is get Congress to come together---in the middle of another bitter impeachment fight. But in announcing the initiative Jan. 14, Biden didn’t mention the partisan battle currently consuming Capitol Hill.
Instead, he emphasized in a prime-time speech that the dark winter he warned about during the campaign had arrived. COVID cases are spiking across the country. The economy is faltering. The nation, the president-elect argued, simply can’t afford not to act.
Yes, it will be expensive. Perhaps remembering the fights over the 2009 stimulus, Biden didn’t shy away from that fact. With interest rates low, he said it was a great time to borrow even though it guarantees adding more to the ever-growing national debt.
Just a few minutes into his remarks, he said that “deficit spending” wasn’t just in order. It was “more urgent than ever” to make “smart fiscal investments.”
“The return on these investments---in jobs, in racial equity---will prevent long-term economic damage and the benefits will far surpass the costs,” Biden argued before adding top economists had concluded spending more now to spur the economy would ensure “our debt situation will be more stable, not less stable, if we seize this moment with vision and purpose.”
First, the president-elect requested $400 billion in additional funding to address the health crisis. According to his plans, the money would be spent...