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Pandemics

President-elect Joe Biden

Screenshot from President-elect Joe Biden's Twitter

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

President-elect Joe Biden believes that rescuing the faltering economy and crushing the coronavirus are the most important challenges he faces right out of the gate when taking office on Jan. 20. To address these problems, he proposed a bold and aggressive $1.9 trillion legislative package on Thursday to tackle them head on.

"The US government can borrow money for less than the rate of inflation, which means we owe it to ourselves to borrow, borrow, borrow," said writer Matt Yglesias in praise of the plan. "I'm excited to see a new administration thinking big."

A key question, of course, is whether the plan can pass Congress. It will likely have support in the House, where Democrats are in control, but Biden will be working with the thinnest possible majority in the Senate. And under current rules, a bill typically needs 60 votes to pass the Senate — which would require 10 Republicans to sign on. Biden hopes to convince members of the opposition to join him, but if he can't, his team also has plans to use a procedure known as budget reconciliation to pass the bill with just 51 votes.

Here are seven key features of the plan as it is currently conceived:

1. $600 + $1,400 = $2,000 checks

One of the most popular elements of the first two rounds of COVID rescue funds was direct government payments to individuals and families. After the first round, which sent $1,200 to individuals under a set income threshold, Congress authorized another set of $600 payments starting in December — even though Democrats and President Donald Trump were demanding $2,000. The $2,000 figure became a rallying point in the Georgia runoffs which Democrats won, so Biden plans to follow through on the promise of delivering this amount. But be careful, though — since the $600 has already gone out to many people, the amount individuals will likely receive if the Biden bill passes as proposed will be an additional $1,400, rounding out the combined payments to a total of $2,000.

Some have already begun criticizing the plan for this plank. But it's important to remember it has many other moving parts.

2. Help for unemployed people, hunger, and people at risk of eviction

The plan also increases the federal boost to weekly unemployment payments from $300 to $400 and extends the applicable period to September. Under current law, the payments would run out in March. There's another $25 billion of support for renters and an extension of the eviction moratorium from the end of January to the end of September. People who get support for buying food through programs such as SNAP will also see increased funds.

3. Ramp up a national vaccination program

If the plan passes, there will be $400 billion to fight the coronavirus. These funds will help enact a $20 billion national vaccination plan, which is the best hope the country has of putting the virus behind it quickly. Under Trump, vaccination rates have been slow as states have largely been left on their own to get shots in arms.

4. More COVID testing

There's also $50 billion allocated for expanding COVID testing, which will continue to be crucial until the population approaches herd immunity through vaccination. Biden hopes to be able to have schools open in the spring, which will require widespread and frequent testing.

5. $350 billion for state and local aid

State and local governments have been hit especially hard by the coronavirus downturn since they depend on tax revenues, which have fallen, to keep their budgets balanced. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Republicans have resisted calls to provide support for localities, denouncing it as a "blue state bailout" — even though states need help regardless of their politics. Under the Biden plan, $350 billion would be earmarked for these governments,

6. Tax credits

In addition to the direct payments of an additional $1,400, the plan gives extra support to families by expanding select tax credits, as CNBC explained:

The president-elect wants to increase the child tax credit to $3,000 for qualifying children aged 17 and under. Kids under age 6 would be eligible for a $3,600 credit.
Biden is calling to put these expansions into effect for the year on an emergency basis.
In comparison, families can currently claim up to $2,000 per child under age 17.
To further benefit low-income families, Biden also wants to make the child tax credit fully refundable. That means taxpayers get a refund check, even if the credit exceeds their tax liability.

7. $15 minimum wage

It seems unlikely that it will make it into the final version of the plan, but Biden's vision would include a hard-fought progressive goal: raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

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Capitol Police confront rioters in the Capitol

Members of Congress forced to hide-out as MAGA rioters stormed the Capitol on Wednesday may have been exposed to the deadly Covid-19 virus, according to The Washington Post. The paper quoted an email sent by Dr. Brian Monahan, the attending physician, to members of Congress on Sunday morning:

"On Wednesday January 6, many members of the House community were in protective isolation in room located in a large committee hearing space. The time in this room was several hours for some and briefer for others. During this time, individuals may have been exposed to another occupant with coronavirus infection."

The email did not specify how large the group was, but it was confirmed from a video by Punchbowl News that some Republicans refused to wear masks-- including Reps. Andy Biggs (AZ.), Michael Cloud (TX), Markwayne Mullin (OK), and Scott Perry (PA)-- even though Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-PA) offered masks to those without one, according to the Post.

One House member, Rep. Jake LaTurner (R-KS), disclosed on Thursday that he had received a positive coronavirus test on Wednesday evening," said the newspaper. "But Pat Adams, a spokesman for LaTurner, said Sunday that the congressman was not among the members who were taken to the lockdown area in question Wednesday afternoon."


Experts told ABC News, "The riot on Capitol Hill could end up being a superspreader event," though they will not know for weeks.

Covid-19 continues to rage in the country, as the US broke single-day case records over the weekend-- 269,420 cases Friday and 278,920 Saturday. In total, over 300,000 Americans have died from coronavirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For perspective that is nearly half the population of Washington, DC. And, in the last 24 hours, more people died from Covid-19, 3,700, than people who died in the tragic September 11th attacks.

The overwhelming dangers and statistics were still not enough to convince those Republican Congresspeople to wear masks, leaving their mask-wearing colleagues and staff "furious," said AP News.

No further details have come out regarding the potential exposure.