Biden to Map Path From ‘Dark Tunnel’ With Aid About to Roll Out

President Joe Biden will address the nation on Thursday to herald the enactment of a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill and mark the day a year ago when the spread of the virus forced Americans into isolation, swiftly collapsing the economy and portending more than a half-million deaths.

Biden’s prime-time remarks will acknowledge the personal and collective struggles of the past 12 months while looking ahead to a more promising future in which enough of the U.S. population is vaccinated to minimize the risk of the virus.

Biden to Map Path From ‘Dark Tunnel’ With Aid About to Roll Out

“I’m going to talk about what comes next,” Biden said Wednesday. “I’m going to launch the next phase of the Covid response and explain what we will do as a government and what we will ask of the American people. There is light at the end of this dark tunnel.”

Earlier Thursday, Biden signed the stimulus measure he championed, which passed Congress with only Democrats’ votes. The bill is his first major legislative achievement, allowing aid to flow to tens of millions of individuals, businesses and state and local governments.

Americans who qualify for direct payments of up to $1,400 will begin seeing the money hit their bank accounts this weekend, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.

The date of March 11, 2020, will remain seared in the national memory as a moment when the peril of Covid-19 hit home. The World Health Organization declared a pandemic, the National Basketball Association suspended its season and actor Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, announced they’d been infected.

Biden’s presidential campaign, riding high after a string of primary victories that made him a near-lock for the Democratic nomination, began to consider how to address the pandemic. With then-President Donald Trump downplaying the threat, Biden was able to mount politically damaging attacks and present a more sober vision of what lay ahead.

Trillions in Debt

Since then, more than 29 million Americans, including Trump, tested positive for coronavirus infection and tens of millions lost their jobs as public health restrictions disrupted the economy. The U.S. government added more than $4 trillion in additional debt as lawmakers unleashed unprecedented stimulus to keep American businesses and families afloat.

As Biden speaks from the White House on Thursday, the nation will still be grappling with the virus. More than 50,000 Americans are infected every day, even as vaccinations have accelerated to better than 2 million shots per day.

In their long pandemic year, Americans have learned difficult lessons about leadership and a public health system that was staggered by the coronavirus.

Few Americans realized how bad the U.S. outbreak would be a year ago, even as infections spread rapidly through New York City and elsewhere, straining the health-care system. It was the day Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, warned Congress: “It’s going to get worse.”

‘Very Low’ Risk

Trump, though, delivered his own address to the country in which he assured Americans that their personal risk from the virus was “very, very low.” He announced that travel from Europe would be prohibited for 30 days.

“No nation is more prepared or more resilient than the United States. We have the best economy, the most advanced health care, and the most talented doctors, scientists and researchers anywhere in the world,” he said.

That health care system would soon be put to the test, as Covid-19 patients swamped hospitals and caused shortages of protective gear and intensive care beds. The U.S. outbreak became the worst in the world, with more cases and deaths than any other country.

Minutes after Trump finished speaking, the NBA said it was suspending its season. The NCAA announced its “March Madness” basketball tournament would be played in empty arenas.

Biden’s campaign, meanwhile, was in transition that day as well. It had experienced a whirlwind two weeks, between the nearly 30-point win in the South Carolina primary that salvaged his presidential prospects to big Super Tuesday victories three days later. After struggling to build crowds, he drew thousands as he campaigned across the South and Midwest, winning five of six primaries on March 10.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’s odds of winning the nomination fell to near zero.

Addressing the Virus

Biden spent March 11 meeting with advisers about his path in the general election and plans to address the virus. His campaign announced a public health advisory board and canceled scheduled campaign stops in Chicago and Miami. The next day, it introduced a new campaign manager, Jen O’Malley Dillon.

“This is going to require a national, national response not just from our elected officials or our public health officials but from all of us,” Biden told reporters in a hotel ballroom on the afternoon of March 12.

It would be his final in-person event until late May.

Face masks would soon become a flashpoint in U.S. politics, as Trump largely refused to wear what has proved to be an essential protection against the virus’s spread.

His handling of the pandemic helped Biden win the White House, as voters grew increasingly disillusioned with the former president as Covid-19 deaths mounted. The new president now stands to benefit politically as U.S. vaccinations accelerate, case loads fall and the economy picks up steam.

Initial jobless claims figures released Thursday suggest that more vaccines and fewer business restrictions are helping to slow the rate of job cuts. The U.S. Labor Department reported that applications for jobless benefits fell by more than forecast last week to the lowest since early November.

Under the just-passed law, most Americans will begin receiving $1,400 direct payments, with disbursal starting within days.

The measure provides additional child-tax credits and new health-insurance subsidies while extending a $300 per week supplemental unemployment benefit into September. State and local governments will get more than $360 billion, cash-strapped union pension funds get a rescue, schools are set to receive money to speed re-opening and funds will go to ramp up vaccinations.

Potential Pitfalls

There are potential pitfalls ahead, though, both for Biden’s political fortunes and the country. Public health experts are warning of the possibility of another surge of infections as states relax mask requirements and restrictions on socializing.

The new stimulus, its critics say, could lead to a spike in inflation.

Thursday is also the 50th day of Biden’s presidency. Since his inauguration, U.S. vaccination rates have increased from about 900,000 per day to an average 2.2 million as of March 9, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.

Nearly one-fifth of the U.S. population has received at least one shot and close to 10% of Americans are fully vaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offered guidance on Monday advising vaccinated Americans that they can safely meet indoors without masks and visit unvaccinated family members.

But one campaign promise Biden hasn’t delivered on is securing Republican support for his policies. While seven-in-ten U.S. adults said they favored Biden’s stimulus in a Pew Research Center poll released Tuesday, including 41% of people who identified as Republicans or leaning Republican, 57% of Republicans surveyed said they opposed it.

Every Republican in Congress voted against it.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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