President-elect Joe Biden said he'll offer details of his first COVID-19 aid proposal next Thursday with a price tag likely "in the trillions of the dollars."
Biden spoke Friday in Wilmington, Del., at an event to introduce prospective nominees to his Cabinet. During a question-and-answer session with reporters, Biden said he'll be speaking to Democratic leaders on Friday afternoon about his agenda "as well as whatever they want to talk to me about."
The president-elect has been hinting at a major relief package as his first priority out of the gate after his inauguration on Jan. 20. He ticked off a list of standbys from previous aid proposals, including upping the recently enacted $600 rebate checks to $2,000 per person; expanded unemployment benefits; rental assistance; aid to states, localities and tribal governments, including for school systems, police and fire departments; and money for vaccine distribution.
"We're going to be proposing an entire package" that will deal with "the whole range of issues," Biden said. "The price tag will be high ... it will be in the trillions of dollars, the entire package."
Adding another $1,400 to the direct payments households started receiving last week has been a bone of contention with Republicans, and it's not clear what it would take to get GOP support. Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., also expressed some hesitation about that amount in an interview Friday with The Washington Post, though he didn't rule out ultimately supporting a broader package.
"[$]600 is simply not enough. You have to choose between paying rent, putting food on the table, keeping the lights on." Biden said.
Adding contentious items like state fiscal relief would complicate matters further, though Republicans have expressed openness if Democrats would accept a liability shield for employers so they can't be sued if customers or workers get sick despite having followed health and safety precautions.
Biden also suggested that he will seek a federal minimum wage increase to $15 an hour, up from $7.25 today, though that could be a separate proposal.
"I also hope that Democratic control of the House and Senate will raise the odds of prompt action for increasing the minimum wage," Biden said. "No one, no one should work as millions are doing today, 40 hours a week at a job and still live below the poverty line."
Biden's remarks came as he was introducing Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo as his pick for Commerce secretary, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh to lead the Labor Department and Isabel Guzman to be administrator of the Small Business Administration, along with Don Graves as deputy secretary of Commerce.
Before announcing Walsh's nomination for Labor, Biden said he gave consideration to a different New Englander for the position: his onetime 2020 rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
"I’m confident he could’ve done a fantastic job," Biden said of Sanders. "I can think of no more passionate and devoted ally of working people in this country. But after Tuesday's result in Georgia, giving Democrats control of the Senate on a tied vote, Bernie and I agreed that we cannot put control of the Senate at risk on the outcome of a special election in Vermont."
Sanders is set to take the Senate Budget Committee gavel in the chamber's 50-50 scenario with Democratic Vice President-elect Kamala Harris as the tie-breaker.
The Budget chairmanship would give the self-described democratic socialist a prominent platform to push for a progressive agenda that some moderate Democrats and a more centrist Biden administration may seek to temper.
“We’re going to expand health care to cover the uninsured,” Sanders told CNN on Thursday night. “We’re going to deal with student debt, we have got to be bold in a way that we have not seen since FDR in the 1930s.”
Sanders underscored his case in a tweet Friday, saying the loss of 140,000 jobs last month as millions go hungry and face eviction point to the need for sweeping legislation. “In the midst of this economic desperation, Congress must act boldly & aggressively,” he tweeted. “As the next Budget Committee Chair, that's what I intend to do.”
Also on Friday, David Kamin, the incoming deputy director of the National Economic Council, told reporters that Biden plans to direct the Education Department to "extend the existing pause on student loan payments and interest for millions of Americans with federal student loans."
David Lerman and Paul M. Krawzak contributed to this report.