WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden has tapped Gene Sperling, a veteran economic policy expert who worked under the previous two Democratic presidents, to oversee the implementation of his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki announced Sperling’s role as the American Rescue Plan coordinator at a Monday press briefing, confirming earlier reports from USA TODAY and others.
Sperling served as director of the National Economic Council and assistant to the president for economic policy under former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. He also worked as a senior official for Treasurer Secretary Larry Summers in the Clinton administration and founded the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution, a left-leaning policy think tank.
In his new position, Sperling is tasked with working with heads of the White House policy councils and other federal agencies to expedite the delivery of funds from the plan, which Biden signed into law last week. Sperling will be the White House’s primary point person with governors and mayors to accelerate that work.
Biden called Sperling a “gifted manager” who will be on the phone with leaders of both red and blue states as “a source of constant communication, a source of guidance and support and, above all, a source of accountability.”
“Together, we’re going to make sure that the benefits of the American Rescue Plan go out quickly and directly to the American people, where they belong,” Biden said.
“Hope is here in real and tangible ways,” Biden said Monday at the White House. He said the new government spending will bankroll efforts that could allow the nation to emerge from the pandemic’s twin crises, health and economic.
“Shots in arms and money in pockets,” the president said. “That’s important. The American Rescue Plan is already doing what it was designed to do: make a difference in people’s everyday lives. We’re just getting started.”
Biden said that within the next 10 days, his administration will clear two important benchmarks: distributing 100 million stimulus payments and administering 100 million vaccine doses since he took office. To commemorate those milestones, Biden and his top representatives are embarking on their most ambitious travel schedule of his young presidency, visiting a series of potential election battleground states this week.
The sales pitch was leaving Republicans cold.
Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell dismissed the target of doses that Biden set when he took office as “not some audacious goal” but just the pace that he inherited. And he mocked Biden’s talk of Americans working toward merely being able to gather in small groups by July 4th as “bizarre.”
The Biden plan cleared Congress without any backing from Republicans, despite polling that found broad public support. Republicans argued the bill was too expensive, especially with vaccinations making progress against the virus, and included too many provisions not directly linked to the pandemic.
After beginning the sales campaign with high-profile speeches, Biden will head to Pennsylvania on Tuesday and then join Harris in Georgia on Friday. Others on his team are visiting the electorally important states of Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico and New Hampshire. The trip Monday marked Harris’ first official journey in office and included an unscheduled stop at a vegan taco stand as well as a coffee stand at the Culinary Academy Las Vegas.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, “We want to take some time to engage directly with the American people and make sure they understand the benefits of the package and how it is going to help them get through this difficult period of time.”
The White House has detailed a theme for each day, focusing on small businesses, schools, home evictions and direct checks to most Americans. Jill Biden was joined by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on a tour Monday of Samuel Smith Elementary School in Burlington, where she highlighted steps the school took to reopen.
But her tour revealed the challenges ahead: In one classroom she visited, only two students were in attendance for in-person learning while the other 17 were virtual. The first lady sat down at a computer to say hello to the remote learners.
“I just love being here at a school again: Educators, parents and students, the entire school has come together to bring kids back to the classroom,” she said. “But even with your best efforts, students can’t come, they can’t come in every day, which means that their parents are still having to take time off of work, or figure out childcare solutions. And this school like schools across this country can’t fully reopen without help.”
The president on Monday also announced that he had chosen Gene Sperling, a longtime Democratic economic policy expert, to oversee the massive stimulus package, the role Biden himself had played for the 2009 economic rescue package. The goal, Biden said, is to “stay on top of every dollar spent.”
“I learned from my experience implementing the Recovery Act just how important it is to have someone who can manage all the moving parts with efficiency, speed and integrity and accountability,” said the president.
The plan’s key features include direct payments of $1,400 for most single taxpayers, or $2,800 for married couples filing jointly, plus $1,400 per dependent — a total of $5,600 for a married couple with two children. The payments phase out for people with higher incomes.
An extension of federal unemployment benefits will continue through Sept. 6 at $300 a week. There’s $350 billion for state, local and tribal governments, $130 billion for K-12 schools and about $50 billion to expand COVID-19 testing, among other provisions.
Restaurants and bars that were forced to close or limit service can take advantage of a new multibillion-dollar grant program, and the plan also has tens of billions of dollars to help people who have fallen behind on rent and mortgage payments.
Harris’ husband, Doug Emhoff, joined his wife for the Western trip, visiting a food relief organization Monday in Las Vegas and participating in a listening session with the organization’s partners. In addition to the president, vice president and their spouses, Cabinet secretaries will also be out on the tour. Hundreds of mayors and governors, including Republicans, are being lined up to give interviews to discuss what the plan means for their communities.
Joe Biden is joining top messengers already crisscrossing the country to highlight the benefits of his massive COVID-19 rescue plan, in his case by promoting aid for small businesses.
Biden is set to visit a small business in suburban Philadelphia on Tuesday, his initial trip outside Washington for the “Help is here” tour that got underway Monday. Vice President Kamala Harris dropped in on a COVID-19 vaccination site and a culinary academy in Las Vegas while first lady Jill Biden toured a New Jersey elementary school.
“We want to avoid a situation where people are unaware of what they’re entitled to,” Harris said at the culinary academy. “It’s not selling it; it literally is letting people know their rights. Think of it more as a public education campaign.”
Joe Biden hitting the road to promote $1.9T pandemic relief plan
The White House is wasting no time promoting the $1.9 trillion relief plan, which Biden signed into law last week, looking to build momentum for the rest of his agenda and anxious to avoid the mistakes of 2009 in boosting that year’s recovery effort. Even veterans of Barack Obama’s administration acknowledge they did not do enough then to showcase their massive economic stimulus package.
The package includes $1,400 stimulus checks for most Americans, $350 billion in aid for state and local governments, $130 billion for school reopenings, money for vaccines and a boost in child tax credits, among a host of other spending aimed at the poor and working class amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s one thing to pass a historic piece of legislation like the American Rescue Plan, and it’s quite another to implement it,” Biden said. “And the devil is in the details. It requires fastidious oversight to make sure the relief arrives quickly, equitably and efficiently with no waste or fraud.”
Sperling did not respond to a request for a comment. The Washington Post first reported Sperling’s addition. Psaki said Sperling, who wasn’t at the White House Monday for Biden’s introduction, will work remotely from California until he is vaccinated for the COVID-19 virus.
The job is envisioned as similar to the role then-vice president Biden held overseeing Obama’s American Recovery Act in 2009. As NEC director under Obama, Sperling oversaw the federal government’s efforts to steer Detroit out of bankruptcy and efforts to help small businesses amid the Great Recession.
Biden accused his predecessor, former President Donald Trump, of lacking oversight following last year’s passage of the federal CARES Act to respond to the pandemic.
“It instead became a free-for-all for well-connected companies, and mainstream businesses – from hardware stores to beauty salons that needed the help most – were left behind. Four hundred thousand (businesses) are now gone,” Biden said.
Sperling was previously speculated as a possibility for Biden’s new nominee for director of the Office of Management and Budget after Neera Tanden withdrew from consideration amid a backlash over previous combative tweets. The White House has not provided a timeline for making a new nomination for that position.