200 Obama Officials Urge Congress to Go Big on Stimulus

More than 200 members of the Obama administration urged Congress on Friday not to shrink its stimulus bill in response to Republicans’ criticism about deficit spending, warning that Democrats risked repeating the same mistake they made 12 years ago, amid the last economic crisis.

The signers of the open letter argue that the decision by the Democratic-led Congress in 2009 to pass a stimulus of $787 billion, less than what some economists at the time said was needed, unnecessarily prolonged the Great Recession.

“The resistance we faced from deficit fearmongers seeking to water it down ate up valuable time and diluted the amount of aid that reached struggling families and small businesses,” the letter says of the 2009 stimulus package. “We know from history that they are wrong and sabotaging the ability of our nation to fully and equitably recover.”

The signers include several members of Mr. Obama’s cabinet, among them Tom Perez, who was labor secretary and later led the Democratic National Committee; Julián Castro, who was secretary of housing and urban development and ran for president last year; and Kathleen Sebelius, who was secretary of health and human services. High-ranking advisers such as Valerie Jarrett, Dan Pfeiffer and John Podesta also signed.

“The lesson that we need to learn from the past is if we have the power to meet the needs of Americans, then we need to do that immediately, whether congressional Republicans agree with it or not,” Mr. Castro said in an interview.

President Biden has proposed a $1.9 trillion package that includes $1,400 stimulus checks for Americans making up to $75,000 a year, a $400-a-week supplement to unemployment benefits through September, aid for state and local governments, and other provisions. Congressional Democrats are advancing it through the budget reconciliation process. With that approach, the bill would be shielded from a filibuster in the Senate and could pass the chamber with only Democratic votes, as a blueprint did early Friday.

Mr. Biden met with Republican senators at the White House this week but described their counterproposal, which would reduce stimulus checks to $1,000 and the total cost of the package to $600 billion, as a nonstarter. He has expressed openness to tightening the income limit to receive a check.

Many Democrats have expressed concern about repeating what they see as the mistakes of 2009, when the party scaled back its stimulus package in an ultimately fruitless pursuit of bipartisan support. Only three Republicans voted for the bill, and the former Obama officials who signed the open letter argue that the economy would have fared better if Democrats had ignored Republicans and passed a larger package on their own.

“Quite frankly, we all had to live the consequences of the Republican intransigence,” Mr. Perez said. “The economic numbers here are dire. They make the Great Recession look like it was a mild recession, which it wasn’t. We can’t afford not to do what the president is proposing.”

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