Aug 30, 2020 - Economy & Business

Team Biden eyes a trillion-dollar January stimulus

Photo illustration of Joe Biden in front of three hundred dollar bills with a downward trend line
Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

If Joe Biden wins the presidency, he might need a trillion-dollar stimulus bill in January, just to buy enough time to push through his nearly $3 trillion "Build Back Better" plan later in spring 2021. That's according to Biden advisers who are growing increasingly worried that the economy is deteriorating by the day.

The big picture: Congress and the White House are locked in a stalemate on additional spending to soften the blow of the pandemic. Every day that extra stimulus is delayed only serves to increase the ultimate size of the final cost to the economy.

  • Economists advising the Biden campaign are privately warning that problems can compound and cascade — including business bankruptcies, supply chain disruptions, mass evictions, and huge shortfalls in state and local budgets.
  • "We have always contemplated the need for additional stimulus," Jake Sullivan, a senior policy adviser to Biden, tells Axios. "We will confront the situation we find in January."

Between the lines: Biden's signature economic stimulus plan is an ambitious attempt to recover from the pandemic while tackling income inequality, climate change and structural racism. The plan would pump $2.7 trillion into American manufacturing, clean energy technology and infrastructure over just four years.

  • He wants to spend an additional $775 billion for working parents and caregivers over 10 years.

Reality check: In a crisis, the most important aspect of any stimulus is speed — getting cash out the door as quickly as possible.

  • Even if Democrats win the Senate, Biden's advisers know that it will be difficult to pass such a plan within weeks of the inauguration.
  • Our thought bubble: Even Biden is not going to get Congress to spend $300 billion on new batteries before Valentine's Day.

By the numbers: Officially, Biden aides are reluctant to commit to a January price tag, given uncertainties about the virus and congressional action this fall. But many economists on his advisory committees privately put it between $1 trillion and $2 trillion, depending on what Congress passes (if it passes anything).

  • The goal would be to get money out the door and Americans back to work, while keeping families in their homes.
  • One blueprint already exists: The House passed a $3 trillion Cares Act II in May, but it's not close to becoming law. House and Senate leaders are trillions of dollars apart.

The other side: Trump would also spend big in January, if not before, if he's re-elected.

  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants to spend $1 trillion this fall, but he's warned Trump about going much higher.
  • Trump's call for a $2 trillion infrastructure bill back in March would be a starting point for a 2021 stimulus.

The bottom line: Many of Biden's economic advisers served in the Obama administration and know what it's like to inherit an economic crisis on day one.

  • They feel that the 2009 stimulus package — the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — was woefully inadequate. And they're determined not to make the same mistake twice.
Go deeper