President Biden on Tuesday kicked off his “Help is Here” tour of the nation, intended to promote his just-signed $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus bill, but he hardly mentioned the bill on what was supposed to be the first leg of a “victory lap.”
Biden spoke for about 3 minutes with the owners of Smith Flooring Inc in Chester, Pa., before reporters were escorted out, with almost no mention of his first major legislative achievement as president.
“More help is on the way, for real. Do you have questions for me — at all?” Biden asked.
Co-owner Kristin Smith said “we don’t have any questions but we wanted to say thank you” and remarked that “not many people come out and stop here in Chester.”
It went unsaid that Biden’s home in Wilmington, Del., is roughly a half-hour drive from the business — and that he would spend the night there in his fourth overnight trip home since taking office Jan. 20.
The president mentioned none of the big-ticket items in his bill, such as the popular $1,400 stimulus checks, which amounted to almost a quarter of the bill’s price tag, or $350 billion for state and local governments, or the significantly expanded child tax credit, or a $300 weekly unemployment supplement through September.
Biden spent part of his time reminiscing of his days as a high school athlete at nearby Catholic prep school Archmere Academy and only one aspect of the bill was directly mentioned — a more than $120 billion allocation for K-12 schools.
Co-owner Jason Smith told Biden, “it was great the schools got funding so now the schools can do some construction.”
“No, that’s a big deal,” Biden said as his press handlers whisked reporters out of the room.
Republicans frequently note that the Congressional Budget Office estimates that more than 90 percent of the K-12 school funds in the bill won’t be spent in 2021 because funds approved for schools last year haven’t been spent.
The president — who picked his ear and scratched his head during an at-times awkward first tour stop — said this month he wanted to aggressively promote his bill. Former President Barack Obama’s “humility” cost Democrats politically, he said.
“Barack was so modest. He didn’t want to take, as he said, ‘a victory lap’. I kept saying, ‘Tell people what we did.’ He said, ‘We don’t have time, I’m not gonna take a victory lap.’ We paid a price for it ironically, for that humility,” Biden said this month, previewing the tour.
At the Pennsylvania flooring firm, Biden also mentioned that the Paycheck Protection Program was reformed because at first businesses without an existing relationship with banks had trouble securing pandemic loans. In April 2020, Congress set aside $60 billion in loans for small and “unbanked” businesses — and Biden recently opened a two-week window during which only small businesses could seek PPP loans — but neither change was the result of his stimulus bill.
The PPP was replenished with $284 billion in December through a bill signed by former President Donald Trump. Biden’s stimulus bill added just $7 billion more to the PPP program.
Biden also said that his administration was “trying like the devil to correct” racial inequity in COVID-19 diagnosis rates and vaccination.
Democrats rammed the stimulus bill through Congress without any Republican votes in the Senate or House using budget reconciliation rules that allow for a bare majority in the evenly split Senate, where Vice President Kamala Harris breaks tie votes.
Republican opposition to Biden’s stimulus focused prominently on the national debt, allegedly wasteful provisions and fear of inflation.
Biden gave a more robust defense of his bill at a Friday celebration in the Rose Garden, saying, “It changes the paradigm. For the first time in a long time, this bill puts working people in this nation first. It’s not hyperbole. It’s a fact.”