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WASHINGTON – Despite Republican resistance, President Joe Biden is refusing to budge from his demand for $1.9 trillion in COVID relief, citing a lackluster jobs report on Friday as evidence that the economy is still sputtering from the coronavirus pandemic.
In remarks from the White House, Biden said the economy is still in trouble, and he called on Congress to quickly to pass his proposal with or without GOP support.
"We're still in the teeth of this pandemic," he said.
Biden said that while he would prefer to work with Republicans, "if I have to choose between getting help right now to Americans who are hurting so badly and getting bogged down in a lengthy negotiation or compromising ... that's an easy choice," he said. "I'm going to help the American people who are hurting."
Biden’s remarks came just hours after the Labor Department reported that the U.S. economy added a modest 49,000 jobs in January even as COVID-related business restrictions eased somewhat.
The nation’s unemployment rate, which is calculated from a different survey, fell from 6.7% to 6.3%, mostly because of a big drop in the number of Americans working or looking for jobs, the Labor Department said.
Also disappointing: Total job gains for November and December were revised down by 159,000.
Shortly after the jobs report was released, Biden and House Democratic leaders huddled at the White House as the president continued to press his case for a $1.9 trillion COVID-relief package.
Biden said the jobs report shows that it will take years for the economy to fully recovery.
"This is not just about numbers," he said. "This is about people’s lives."
He added: "Real people are hurting, and we can fix it."
Biden and congressional Democrats are marching forward with their plans to approve the president’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.
Early Friday, the Senate voted 51-50 along party lines to approve a budget resolution paving the way for passage of the package by the end of the month or mid-March. Vice President Kamala Harris, in her role as president of the Senate, cast the tie-breaking vote.
Biden is pushing for $1.9 trillion in COVID relief despite concerns from some Republicans about the size and scope of the package.
The White House argues that $1.9 trillion is needed to fully address the twin health and economic crises caused by the global pandemic.
Biden’s American Rescue Plan calls for another round of direct $1,400 payments to millions of Americans, $130 billion to reopen the nation’s schools, $350 billion in aid to state and local governments, $160 billion for vaccine testing and equipment, $50 billion for grants and loans to businesses and raising the federal minimum wage to $15 a hour.
Ten Senate Republicans are pushing a smaller $618 billion proposal that would scrap the aid to state and local governments, reduce the stimulus checks from $1,400 to $1,000 and remove Biden’s proposal to boost the minimum wage.
In his remarks, Biden said he has no intention of scaling back the size of the stimulus checks.
"They're going to be $1,400. Period," he said. "That's what the American people were promised."
Americans need the money, he said, "and they're going to get it."
Democratic strategist Josh Schwerin said Friday’s lackluster jobs report starkly illustrates the need for Congress to move quickly on Biden’s proposal.
"Today's jobs report was a harsh reminder that we can't just sit back and hope for the best with the economy,” Schwerin said. “We need to go big, and we need to do it fast. Millions of people are out of work or struggling to get by with bills that keep coming even when the paychecks stop.”
“Republicans like to look at the stock market and their donors' bank accounts to say the recovery is strong, but those are terrible metrics for how most Americans are really doing,” Schwerin said. “President Biden has a mandate to act – the economic numbers support it and the American people support it. Hopefully Republicans will help, but Democrats simply can't wait."
Contributing: Paul Davidson, Ledyard King
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden says lackluster jobs report reinforces need for COVID relief