WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris told the nation’s mayors Monday that the incoming administration would be a “strong partner” with cities struggling to provide essential services while tax revenues plummet due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Biden and Harris held a virtual meeting in Wilmington, Delaware, with the U.S. Conference of Mayors, a non-partisan organization that has urged Congress to provide millions in financial help to cities to stave off layoffs and provide services that include law enforcement, health care and sanitation.
The House and Senate are at loggerheads over another relief bill. Democrats in the House have passed a nearly $2.2 trillion relief package that includes money for cities and states. Meanwhile, Senate Republican leaders have pushed a slimmed down $500 billion proposal that does not include money for states and cities.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and President Donald Trump claim funds for municipalities and some states with Democratic leaders would reward past mismanagement that created fiscal problems before the pandemic.
Biden has backed efforts by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., urging McConnell to restart negotiations on a relief bill that Congress could pass before the 116th Congress expires this year.
The president-elect told mayors Monday that “today is not a one-off meeting, it’s just a start.”
And he said he was not about helping “blue cities” or not helping “red cities,” as Republican leaders have framed the debate.
“We have to come together as a country,” Biden said.
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak and Democrats in the state’s congressional delegation support the bill Pelosi and the House passed months ago.
Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., voted with other GOP lawmakers in the House against that bill, with many voicing concerns about the rising national debt.
But the mayors of Las Vegas, Reno and Henderson have backed efforts by the U.S. Conference of Mayors to get federal assistance as cities are hit with a plunge in tax revenues due to business closures and unemployment caused by the pandemic.
Biden told the mayors they are on the front lines as the nation heads into “this Thanksgiving and a very dark winter, with cases and hospitalizations and deaths spiking.”
“And this is the first priority we’re going to have once we’re sworn in,” Biden said.
Louisville, Kentucky, Mayor Greg Fischer, the head of the mayors conference, said a federal-state approach is needed to combat the spread of the coronavirus and shore up the local economies.
“Mayors are known for putting aside politics to get things done, and the president-elect has made clear he takes that same approach,” Fischer said following the meeting.
Pelosi and Schumer have asked that negotiations on a stimulus plan restart so that a bipartisan, bicameral package can be created and passed to help “crush the virus and save American lives,” the two leaders said in a letter.
McConnell is pressuring Democrats to accept his trimmed down version that he said would target small businesses and provide funds for equipment and testing.
But some Republicans say more funds are needed to avert financial hardship in portions of the country where COVID-19 threatens to fill medical facilities and close businesses as virus infections peak.
And some Democrats argue that passage of a slim relief bill in the lame duck session of Congress would provide some help until next year when lawmakers are sworn in and can address other needs.