In yesterday’s edition of POLITICO’s Transition Playbook — a leading news beat on the transfer of power in Washington, D.C. — TRP’s Andy Rosenberg prognosticated the next round of COVID-19 relief aid for what is soon to be a unified Democratic government. With the Democrats set to control the White House and both chambers of Congress following victories in the Georgia Senate runoff elections, Rosenberg explained that this sweeping change of leadership is an opportunity for the President-elect to clinch policy wins on his top “rescue and recovery” priorities. “The expectations and assumptions about what was possible a week ago are completely obsolete,” said Rosenberg.
The newsletter in its entirety can be read below.
Welcome to POLITICO’s 2021 Transition Playbook, your guide to one of the most consequential transfers of power in American history.
JOE BIDEN is about to hand Congress the first major assignment of his presidency.
The president-elect tonight will lay out a $1.9 trillion — with a ‘T’! — plan to ramp up coronavirus vaccinations and testing, provide financial aid to struggling American families and businesses and rescue the U.S. economy.
In a speech in Wilmington, Del., Biden will call on lawmakers to come together in a show of “pragmatism and unity” to take “decisive action” and pass the sweeping package as soon as possible, senior Biden administration officials said this afternoon.
The largest piece of the plan — totaling roughly $1 trillion on its own — is focused on economic aid to individuals, including by adding another $1,400 to the $600 stimulus checks Congress passed in December; increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour; and boosting unemployment insurance by an extra $400 per week.
Biden will also ask for $440 billion to provide support for small businesses and communities. And roughly $415 billion will be spent tackling the coronavirus — launching a national vaccine program, expanding testing, standing up a federal corps of public health workers, and helping schools reopen safety.
Tonight he will make the point that “the risk of doing too little at this moment is far greater than the risk of doing too much,” arguing that funding the package will prevent longer-term human suffering, one senior official said.
His aides also emphasized Thursday the need for more coronavirus funding given how badly DONALD TRUMP’s government has bungled vaccine distribution and failed to meet demand for testing and protective equipment, nearly a year into the crisis.
“I think it’s clear that what we’re inheriting from the Trump administration is much worse than we could have imagined,” one official said on a call with reporters, describing the need for more funding for testing and vaccine distribution.
This “rescue and recovery” package is more than double the $787 billion “recovery and reinvestment” stimulus BARACK OBAMA signed into law in 2009. “It’s much bigger and much bolder, as it should be because the coronavirus has put a damper on everything,” said RAY LaHOOD, Obama’s first secretary of Transportation.
Consider it a first step: Biden will come back in a few weeks to lay out the second part of his two-pronged plan, a legislative package focused on investing in clean energy and jobs and addressing climate change and racial equity, among other priorities. (The “Build Back Better” part.)
Lobbyists are already preparing to shape this second package, which has the potential to be much more ambitious in scope now that Democrats will have control of the Senate. “
“The expectations and assumptions about what was possible a week ago are completely obsolete,” said ANDREW ROSENBERG, a Democratic lobbyist at Thorn Run Partners.
Clearly, Biden wasn’t kidding last week when he said that “every major economist thinks we should be investing in deficit spending in order to generate economic growth.”
Biden has signaled he’d like to pass the legislation on a bipartisan basis, but Republicans are likely to be wary of such large sums after spending trillions of dollars on emergency relief last year. But Senate Democrats could try to pass the legislation using budget reconciliation, which only requires a majority.
Paging Sen. JOE MANCHIN (D-W.Va): Asked if the entire Democratic Caucus was on board with the initial $1.9 trillion proposal, one official said simply that the transition team is “hopeful … there’s a lot of support” for the package, which they said reflects input they’ve received from members of Congress, governors and mayors. And they put the onus on lawmakers to get it done.
“There is a path out of this darkness,” another official said. “But we will need support from Congress.”
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Speaking this evening about his Covid relief and economic recovery plans.
Going to a virtual fundraiser for the inaugural committee, according to the transition. She’s also expected to attend Biden’s speech tonight.
HOUSE GOP GROUP OPPOSES AUSTIN WAIVER — The Republican Study Committee, a group that advocates for conservative policies and counts most House GOP lawmakers as members, said it opposes granting a waiver for Biden’s Defense secretary pick, LLOYD AUSTIN, writes CONNOR O’BRIEN.
In a memo to members, RSC Chair JIM BANKS (R-Ind.) said granting the nominee a waiver would be a “mistake.” The group is also circulating a memo to members that detail “reasons for why General Austin is not the right person for the job given his background and previous failures.”
While conservative Republican opposition wouldn’t tank Austin’s confirmation, O’Brien notes that few Democrats have spoken out against the memo.
BIDEN TAPS CLIMATE POLICY EXPERTS FOR WHITE HOUSE POSTS: Biden announced Thursday that he is selecting several climate policy experts to work in the new White House climate office, ZACK COLMAN reports.
DAVID HAYES , who was the deputy Interior secretary during the Obama and Clinton administrations, will be the special assistant to Biden on climate policy. MAGGIE THOMAS, former political director for the climate-focused group Evergreen Action and a former climate adviser to Sen. ELIZABETH WARREN, will be the chief of staff of the office.
MARK YOUR CALENDARS: The Senate Commerce Committee is targeting Jan. 21 for a hearing on PETE BUTTIGIEG’s nomination to serve as Transportation secretary, SAM MINTZ reports.