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Biden, Yellen call on Congress to 'act now' on COVID-19 relief

President Joe Biden participates in an economic briefing with Secretary of Treasury Janet Yellen in the Oval Office of the White House on Friday. Photo by Shawn Thew/UPI
President Joe Biden participates in an economic briefing with Secretary of Treasury Janet Yellen in the Oval Office of the White House on Friday. Photo by Shawn Thew/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 29 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Friday called on Congress to pass the administration's proposed $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, saying the cost of inaction outweighs the legislation's price tag.

Biden is hoping his calls for bipartisanship during his inauguration speech will result in a stimulus deal supported by both parties. But so far, Republicans have balked at the $1.9 trillion cost as well as additional $1,400 direct payments to some Americans.

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"You have to act now. There is no time to delay," Biden said during an Oval Office meeting with Yellen, Vice President Kamala Harris, economic policy adviser Jared Bernstein and National Economic Council Director Brian Deese.

Biden said the economic and social damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic would be more costly than the relief bill, pointing to the educational delays of students not in school and the financial impact on parents having to stay home with their children.

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"We have learned from past crises that the risk is not doing too much," he said. "The risk is not doing enough."

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Yellen echoed his concern, saying that "smart investments" can get the United States "back on track."

"The president is absolutely right. The price of doing nothing is much higher than the price of doing something -- and doing something big."

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Though Democrats control both chambers of Congress, Biden had hoped to have bipartisan support for his proposed plan. But with Republicans shutting down House efforts to pass a $1 trillion relief package in 2020, it's unclear just how many will cross the aisle to support legislation nearly twice the cost.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell earlier this week described the proposal as an "imprecise deluge of borrowed money" that "misses the mark." He said he supports a more targeted package.

"So as the $900 billion package from five weeks ago continues to come online, and as remaining needs continue to come into focus, Republicans will be ready and eager to continue bipartisan discussions about smart steps forward for the American people," he said during remarks on the Senate floor.

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Congress is expected to vote on a budget reconciliation, passage of which is needed to begin work on the $1.9 trillion relief bill. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have both said they will move forward on the relief bill without Republican support, if necessary.

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"The need to act big and bold is urgent," Schumer said on the Senate floor. "We must not repeat the mistakes of 2008 and 2009, when Congress was too timid to confront the national crisis."

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Housing and Urban Development Secretary. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki (L) looks on as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Fudge, the first Black woman to lead the department in decades, speaks at a news conference in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House. Photo by Michael Reynolds/UPI | License Photo
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