Chamber of Commerce wants Covid stimulus passed before inauguration

Congress has to pass another round of coronavirus stimulus before President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated in January, offering aid to a U.S. economy that is still grappling with the fallout of the health crisis, U.S. Chamber of Commerce CEO Thomas Donohue told CNBC on Monday.

“The stimulus bill is essential, and the sooner it’s done, the better for the beneficiaries of the stimulus and therefore better for the markets and the economy,” Donohue said on “Closing Bell.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said last week that passing another pandemic relief bill is “job one” for Congress following the election. “Hopefully, the partisan passions that prevented us from doing another rescue package will subside with the election. And I think we need to do it, and I think we need to do it before the end of the year,” McConnell said.

Biden, a Democrat, was projected as the winner by NBC News and other media organizations Saturday. However, Trump has not yet conceded the election, and his campaign is waging various legal fights in key battleground states.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Saturday congratulated Biden, the former vice president under President Barack Obama. In a statement, Donohue said the business group stood “ready to work with the Biden administration and leaders on both sides of the aisle to restore public health, revitalize our economy, and help rebuild American lives and communities.”   

Democratic leaders and Trump administration officials failed to strike a stimulus deal before the election, disagreeing over the size and scale of a potential relief package. Those chasms between the two sides appear to remain.

However, Donohue said he is confident there would be an agreement in the coming weeks that would deliver help to the bruised economy, which has improved from the worst of the pandemic-induced damage. In October, job gains beat expectations and helped bring down the nation’s unemployment rate to 6.9%. Still, millions of people who lost their jobs during the pandemic remain out of work.

“We’re very hopeful that there will be a commitment to do this before the inauguration because that’s quite a ways off,” Donohue said. “And we believe that the parties ought to get together and get on with it, and I think they will.” Inauguration Day is Jan. 20.

Donohue also addressed the news about Pfizer and BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine, which interim trial data showed was more than 90% effective in preventing Covid-19 in people who had not previously been infected. The news was cheered by Wall Street, as stocks soared Monday. Some of the session’s biggest winners were those that would benefit from the end of the pandemic, such as airline and other travel companies.

Donohue offered a tempered outlook on the immediate benefits of Monday’s vaccine developments, noting it will be months before the benefits may be felt in the economy. The drugmakers still need emergency approval from regulators, and distribution is a complex task. Those realities make it even more important to deliver more stimulus to the economy, Donohue said.

“We’re probably into February or March of next year before there’s serious supply available where it needs to be,” Donohue said. “All the more reason that sensible people have to get together for the fourth effort to keep this economy going, to keep people safe and take care of our fellow citizens.”

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