More than 150 of America's top business leaders voiced their support for President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion pandemic recovery plan Wednesday in a letter to Congress.
"We write to urge immediate and large-scale federal legislation to address the health and economic crises brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic," the executives wrote. "Congress should act swiftly and on a bipartisan basis to authorize a stimulus and relief package along the lines of the Biden-Harris administration's proposed American Rescue Plan."
The letter was signed by senior executives across all walks of business, including airlines, banking, entertainment, health care, utilities and technology. They include the CEOs of AT&T, Blackstone, Comcast (the parent company of NBCUniversal), Corcoran, Goldman Sachs, Google, Saks Fifth Avenue, Siemens, T-Mobile and United Airlines.
"More than 10 million fewer Americans are working today than when the pandemic began, small businesses across the country are facing bankruptcy, and schools are struggling to reopen," the letter said. "The American Rescue Plan provides a framework for coordinated public-private efforts to overcome Covid-19 and to move forward with a new era of inclusive growth."
The bill includes $20 billion for coronavirus vaccinations, $50 billion for testing and $350 billion for state and local relief. It would also allow for $1,400 direct stimulus payments, $400 a week in additional jobless benefits and extensions of programs that make millions more people eligible for unemployment insurance.
The bill would increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour by 2025, a provision that has drawn particular opposition from some Republicans.
Speedy passage is assured when it goes to a vote in the House on Friday, but getting it through the evenly divided Senate is in question. Without bipartisan support, Democrats may have to use a budget reconciliation process, which requires only a simple majority.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said he objects to the bill's targeting and costs, and he has resisted raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour.
"Democrats' so-called relief bill includesSen. Sanders' minimum wage proposal that would kill 1.4 million American jobs," McConnell said this month. "This, after the president killed many thousands of jobs with Keystone XL [pipeline project]. Killing jobs and destroying opportunity — that's their idea of pandemic relief?"
Biden's top economic adviser, Brian Deese, the head of the National Economic Council, said it was critical to pass the bill, which he said includes recovery ideas from all parts of the political spectrum.
"This is an urgently needed piece of legislation," Deese said Wednesday. The country must "move fast and with the kind of speed and size we need to finally, finally get out of this economic crisis and put us on a positive trajectory."
Deese said the letter was an "important signal again of the kind of breadth of support we're seeing for this rescue."
A recent Quinnipiac University poll indicated that 68 percent of Americans support the recovery package but that only a slim majority of Republicans do, 53 percent.
Nearly 10 million people are still without work since the beginning of the pandemic. The number of unemployed people is probably higher as people drop out of looking for work while they take care of their families, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Tuesday. Yellen and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell have both said the real unemployment rate is closer to 10 percent than the headline rate of 6.3 percent.
The administration said it remains "optimistic" that the recovery package will pass without major compromises because of the severity of the situation and broad national support.
"Even for those who have done relatively well in this crisis, they recognize that this crisis is affecting everybody. It's affecting our communities. It's affecting our health workers. We talk about the K-shaped nature of this crisis a lot, but I think that understates the pain and anxiety and fear and the human suffering that exists on the bottom end of that K," Deese said.
"When we talk about 30 million Americans who last week reported that they didn't have enough food to eat, this is a unique crisis," he added. "It may not be that we find that kind of connectivity across Washington, but I think we are seeing that among the American people."