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How Biden is handling U.S. stimulus, economic recovery

Bill Daley, Wells Fargo Vice Chairman of Public Affairs & Former White House Chief of Staff to President Obama, joins Yahoo Finance’s Akiko Fujita and Zack Guzman to discuss U.S. stimulus and outlook for an economic recovery. On Thursday, Wells Fargo Renewable Energy & Environmental Finance (REEF) also announced it recently surpassed $10 billion in tax-equity investments in the wind, solar, and fuel cell industries.

Video Transcript

ZACK GUZMAN: Welcome back to Yahoo Finance Live. We are seeing that $1.9 trillion relief package continue to make its way through the process. House Democrats are hoping to pass that by Friday with the timeline still operating of getting that to President Biden's desk by March 14th before those unemployment programs across the country start to expire. Of course, there are a lot of elements still being finalized in the package. But for more on how that Biden team is attacking the problem, as well as the changes it might make to the Paycheck Protection Program, I'm very happy to welcome our next guest.

Bill Daley is Wells Fargo Vice Chairman of Public Affairs and a former White House Chief of Staff to President Obama back when he was in the White House. And Bill, appreciate you taking the time here to chat with us. I guess we can start on the changes that are going to be coming through here with your perspective as a bank kind of helping get this PPP money out to businesses in need. What have you seen throughout that process and maybe what tweaks might make it easier for business owners to access that cash through these changes moving forward?

BILL DALEY: Well, I think some of the changes that they've already mentioned about is trying to focus on smaller businesses. We, in our PPP loans-- about 95% of our loans are to small businesses with under 20 people. Obviously those are the businesses that have really been severely impacted over the last 11 months. So we're proud of that effort. And I think the administration is looking to trying to focus these on smaller companies.

Obviously the first flurry of PPP in the spring and a lot of very large loans to large companies. And there was a lot of controversy around that. But I think there's a greater focus on where the real need is right now. And that is with those small businesses that are in the contact industries or sectors that have been so severely. So we're really proud from our end with our customers in focusing on those smaller than 20 employees in small businesses.

AKIKO FUJITA: Bill, what's your sense on where we are in the economic recovery process right now? You've got a good view on what's happening with small businesses, the challenges that they face. But you also understand the policy side of things given your experience in the White House. If you could sort of just bottom line it, are we at the beginning of this? Do you get the sense that things are really starting to pick up? What's your view?

BILL DALEY: You know, it's still this sort of two parts of the economy-- the contact piece of the economy. Any business that has engagement with people are probably in the fourth inning of a comeback to use a metaphor of baseball. Contactless society had been doing quite well, even over the last 11 months. So you have this grand difference. Obviously in hotels, travels, restaurants, all of those businesses, they are slowly moving out, as each state pulls off some of the limitations, but we've got a way to go.

But I think once we get to that herd mentality around vaccinations, then I think there is in at least probably the second half of this year, you will see real growth and opportunities for businesses, as that confidence comes back to the economy, which is strong overall and is well poised for a comeback that would be rather dramatic in my opinion.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah. And as former Chief of Staff of President Obama, I imagine you are working pretty closely with now President Joe Biden around some of the issues you guys face in the White House together. But when it comes into maybe how he's been threading the needle with even people in his own party-- Democrats, more progressives, pushing for a lot of things, including that minimum wage addition, as well as increasingly student debt cancellation-- what do you make of the way he's been able to kind of thread the needle to get this $1.9 trillion package through and potentially through on time?

BILL DALEY: Look it, think so far it's been very good. He's been strange and clear as to what he believes in. He put a major package out there. We proudly endorsed it early on-- we as a company. Our CEO, Charlie Scharf, stepped out. There are pieces, as he has said, that may be changed in the end. I think it's going to be hard to see the minimum wage, based upon the rules of Congress, to survive in a bill. But it may.

If not, then my guess is they'll come back-- Congress will come back-- immediately on a standalone bill on raising the minimum wage. Whether it's $15 over the period that he recommended or less or a shorter period remains to be seen. But I think it's been a big-- as he has said, you go bold. And in the middle of this, or at this point in this pandemic, I think the timing is perfect. We saw when Congress acted in the spring, when COVID really began to hit and the lockdowns took place, that that's what's held up the economy-- the actions by Congress with a rather substantial amount of relief.

That kept the economy from cratering to the degree that a lot of people thought it was going to, as we were in that very early stages of the pandemic and lockdowns. So it showed that it helped boost the economy. We've seen that with our customers. Keeping some of them alive is business wise. And so I think it's a bold move. And I think he'll get it done. I think his rhetoric around it has been just perfect for what the country needs right now. And that's been a good thing.

AKIKO FUJITA: And do you think this jeopardizes some of his other policy agendas though? I mean, you've heard the argument from the Republican side, where they have essentially said, look, this isn't a bipartisan passage of the bill. The House expected to vote later this week. In the Senate, they haven't necessarily been able to get Republicans on board with that. For an administration that started with the message of unity, do you think this derails some of these other policy priorities that the president has set forward.

BILL DALEY: Well, in order to move anything other than through continuing resolution, you must have compromise. Whether that's bipartisanship-- you're not going to be able, I don't think, with the close division in the Senate to be able to ram through universal just because it's a presidential idea, whether that's on immigration and infrastructure, whatever. So I think the president's going to turn to-- you may not have the bipartisanship on this. But I think part of the reason is he wants to get this done. It's been a month since he's gone to office.

He doesn't want to go much longer. This relief is needed, and it's needed out in the country. And I think, to go through-- as we've found out in the past, that is a very laborious and long process to work through a bill this big in a bipartisan way. And I think we're going to have to learn what bipartisan means again. You know, president put together a $1.9 trillion. Republicans came back with, I think, it's $600 billion proposal. In order to close that gap in a short period, that's pretty unrealistic.

But there's one thing about Joe Biden that's real. He is about trying to find common ground. That's what he's done for 40 years when he was in the Senate. To make any progress in Congress, you've got to do that. And so I think he will go back. And his rhetoric has been such, as opposed to in the past-- that's not cutting off the opportunity to go back to people on specific issues and work with them. And that I think is a refreshing thing right now.

AKIKO FUJITA: Well, Bill, it's certainly good to get your perspective as a former insider too. Bill Daley, Wells Fargo Vice Chairman of Public Affairs and former White House Chief of Staff to President Obama.