Dunn said the plan reflects that this is “not a blue-state crisis, not a red-state crisis,” but one facing every state. Republicans will no doubt object to some aspects of the bill, even though, as Dunn emphasized, “many proposals have enjoyed bipartisan support.” The incoming administration is betting that popular support in light of the eroding economic picture will move Congress off the dime. “We are confident this what the American people are looking at,” she said, adding that everyone from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce welcomed the plan.
Brian Deese, the incoming director of the National Economic Council, underscored on the call that the economy is taking a turn for the worse. The “precarious state of the economy,” he observed, as reflected in last month’s net loss of 140,000 jobs, nearly 1 million new unemployment claims and declining retail sales. He stressed that the bottom quintile of workers are facing 20 percent unemployment.
The two greatest challenges for the new administration may be getting Congress to move swiftly (that is, to avoid having the rescue plan run into the larger long-term economic plan coming next month) and resolving the vaccination mess.
As for Congress, Dunn said, “The first step is laying out why we need urgent action.” Biden did that on Thursday and will have further remarks Friday on his vaccination plan. She said the Biden team has already reached out to Congress, mayors and governors to incorporate their concerns. She also noted that the Biden team was pleased with “how Congress came together in December.” The main impetus for Congress not to drag its feet again may be the severity of the crisis. “This is not a crisis that will go away on its own,” Dunn argued.
On the vaccination front, Dunn and Deese were candid that the Trump administration really has no federal plan at all: “The plan has essentially been to leave everything to the states,” Deese said. The ensuing confusion and delays, he said, were “derivative of that.” The Biden team, however, will provide “clear and consistent guidance” on items such as reimbursement for states and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s schedule for who gets vaccination priority. The feds will provide more resources, assist with mass vaccination sites where possible, and work with pharmacies and other providers to accelerate the process.
Two messages came through loud and clear from the Biden advisers: First, they have a highly detailed and ambitious plan — a radical change from the Trump years — designed to put pressure on Congress to act urgently. That level of preparedness, combined with a communication strategy in which Biden was able to articulate details clearly (how novel!) as well as support lined up in advance (Sanders and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce obviously learned about the plan before Biden’s speech and were ready to respond), may help grease the skids. The only question that remains is how intransigent Senate Republicans will be in the middle of a devastating crisis.
Second, the Biden team is not reticent about explaining the chaotic state of our vaccination program and the herculean effort needed to get resources and to bring order to the process. That is not a matter of merely resetting expectations; it is a sad reaffirmation of the complete incompetence of the Trump administration, which has resulted in nearly 400,000 deaths.
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