President Joe Biden has warned of the steep and growing “cost of inaction” on his 1.9 trillion dollar Covid relief plan as the White House searched for “creative” ways to win public support for the package.
Mr Biden signalled on Friday for the first time that he is willing to move ahead without backing from Republicans.
“I support passing Covid relief with support from Republicans if we can get it,” he told reporters. “But the Covid relief has to pass. No ifs, ands or buts.”
His message so far has been that a fresh 1.9 trillion dollars in aid would be a bargain compared to the potential damage to the world’s largest economy if it does not pass.
An aggressive push for vaccinations and generous aid to individuals would help put parents back to work and let children return to school and improve their lifetime earnings, Mr Biden said at a Friday meeting with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.
They met in the Oval Office, where the fireplace was lit to protect against the chill in Washington.
“We have learned from past crises that the risk is not doing too much,” he said. “The risk is not doing enough.”
Only a week into his presidency, Mr Biden is confronting the challenge of selling his first major piece of legislation to a country he has pledged to unite.
Private calls with Republican lawmakers have yet to produce any progress on reaching a deal, while Senate Democrats are now preparing to pass the measure strictly on partisan lines as soon as next week.
Some Biden allies have expressed frustration that the administration has not more clearly defined what the massive legislation would actually accomplish.
The new president instead has largely focused his first nine days in office on signing executive orders rolling back his predecessor’s policies.
In particular, Mr Biden, for whom the widespread distribution of coronavirus vaccines will be a defining test, has not explained what the increased money for testing and vaccination would achieve – including how much quicker the White House believes it would help bring about an end to the pandemic.
Mr Biden’s outreach to senators has largely brought criticism that the plan should be more targeted and that the country can afford to wait to see the effects of the stimulus dollars that were approved in December.
Republican lawmakers see a need for speeding vaccinations but one Senate aide said their offices are not being bombarded with calls for an additional aid package.
Constituents are more focused on the looming impeachment trial, said the aide.
This has left the Biden team trying to expand its outreach beyond Capitol Hill.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Mr Biden recognises the importance of speaking directly to the American people about his plan for vaccinations and supporting the economy, but the pandemic has limited his ability to travel safely to drum up support.
The administration is relying on TV interviews by White House officials and allies with local media and national shows like The View, as well as calls with governors, local officials and progressive and civic groups.
“We’re taking a number of creative steps, a little outside of the box,” Ms Psaki said. “Certainly, his preference would be to get on a plane and fly around the country.”