WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden met at the White House on Tuesday with JPMorgan Chase Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon and other leading business executives to discuss the administration’s $1.9 trillion economic relief package, as Democrats work to speed the plan through Congress.
The meeting also included Doug McMillon, CEO of Walmart; Sonia Syngal from GAP; Marvin Ellison, CEO of Lowe’s; and Tom Donohue, of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Vice President Kamala Harris and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen also took part.
The meeting with the business executives comes as the White House accelerates its push for Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief proposal amid increasing opposition from congressional Republicans. House Democrats have unveiled key portions of the legislation and on Tuesday began holding what will be a lengthy series of committee meetings this week to vote on various portions of the package, leading up to final House passage later this month.
The developments coincided with the start of the Senate’s impeachment trial of former president Donald Trump, but Biden told reporters he wasn’t watching the trial.
“I have a job. My job is to help people. We have already lost over 450,000 people and we could lose a whole lot more if we don’t act and act decisively,” Biden said as his meeting with the business leaders got underway. “A lot of people, as I have said before, children are going to bed hungry. A lot of families are food insecure. They are in trouble. That’s my job.”
The meeting of the business executives also comes amid an intensifying fight over Democrats’ proposal to hike the minimum wage to $15 per hour. McMillon, who is also the chairman of the influential Business Roundtable, said last month that he supports a boost to the minimum wage. Dimon has also previously backed a minimum wage hike.
But the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has urged lawmakers not to use the “current crisis . . . as an opportunity to enact long-sought permanent policy changes, like raising the minimum wage.” The Chamber also called existing $1 trillion annual deficits a “real cause for concern.”
The business leaders are expected to bring up the minimum wage proposal at the White House, two people familiar with the matter said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the private meeting.
Biden’s plan to raise the federal minimum wage has become a particularly contentious element of his relief package, which also includes hundreds of billions of dollars for cities, states and schools; rental assistance and eviction relief; and $160 billion for a national vaccine program, increased testing and other assistance for the health care system.
Additionally, Biden’s proposal includes a new round of $1,400 stimulus checks to individuals. Democrats have been debating who should be eligible to receive those checks, and considered lowering the income threshold for individuals to $50,000 from the $75,000 Biden initially proposed, which had applied to previous stimulus payments — including $600 checks Congress agreed to in December.
However, the Ways and Means Committee on Monday released legislation keeping the $75,000 income limit for individuals and $150,000 for couples, but adding a faster phaseout period so that no money goes to individuals with incomes over $100,000 or couples with incomes over $200,000.
Asked Tuesday whether he supported the structure of the checks as proposed by House Democrats, Biden responded: “Yes.”
Many lawmakers are concerned that the minimum wage increase will not be accepted by the Senate parliamentarian under the special budget rules Democrats are using to push the relief bill through Congress without GOP votes.
Asked about that issue Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said: “We’re trying to work as well as we can with the parliamentarian to get minimum wage to happen. That’s all I’m going to say.”
House Democrats debated internally whether to incorporate the minimum wage increase in their bill but the proposal is strongly supported by members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and was ultimately included.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has also said it opposes Biden’s proposal to raise federal unemployment benefits from $300 per week to $400, saying the measure “distorts the labor market and deters individuals from returning to work.”
This is not the first time Biden has met with officials who have criticized elements of his relief plan. Earlier this month, Biden hosted 10 Senate Republicans to discuss the next relief package – although he has appeared to reject their pleas to seek a bipartisan bill.
“As you know I met a long time with my Republican colleagues, have been exchanging correspondence and telephone calls as well to see if there’s any way we can follow-up beyond where we are,” Biden said. “I think we’re in a position to think big and move big and move in a direction that cannot only get the economy back on its feet, but we have to get people well.”
Biden also said he was anxious to hear how the business executives felt about the relief package and expressed optimism they could find “common ground,” just as he had sought with Senate Republicans.
JPMorgan Chase has previously called for another round of pandemic relief for poorer families as well as the renewal of support for unemployed Americans, among other measures.