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Stimulus needed as bridge to widely available Covid vaccines

CNBC’s Jim Cramer urged Congress on Tuesday to quickly pass another piece of coronavirus stimulus legislation, saying key parts of the economy need help until Covid-19 vaccines are widely administered.

“We are so close to getting this economy back on track, but these places that close, they can’t flip a switch and open again. That’s just way of life. You can’t do it,” Cramer said on “Squawk on the Street.”

Cramer’s comments came shortly after legendary investor Warren Buffett implored Washington to extend the Paycheck Protection Program, a key lifeline for small business that Congress created early in the coronavirus pandemic. But the window to apply for PPP loans closed months ago, and other economic stimulus measures, such as a federal supplement to unemployment insurance, also have since run out.

“I think the country owes it to the millions of small business people … just renew the PPP and get us to the end of the tunnel,” Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, said Tuesday on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”

However, Congress has been ensnared in a stalemate since the summer over additional relief even as the pandemic persisted, and as new waves of business restrictions were implemented by state and local officials this fall in an attempt to contain Covid outbreaks.

Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress are hoping to pass coronavirus relief and an appropriations package before government funding runs out Saturday. A bipartisan group of House members and senators on Monday released a $908 billion stimulus proposal it hopes can serve as a road map for action.

“How can the government not agree to fund [businesses] until we get vaccines?” Cramer said, one day after the first health-care workers in the U.S. received the Covid vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech.

“What’s incredible to me is that … Warp Speed really worked. Warp Speed was great. It kind of shocked everybody,” Cramer added, referencing to the Trump administration’s vaccine development program. “And now Congress should be able to say, ‘We love Warp Speed. It’s terrific, and we are going to bridge to Warp Speed. We’re going to put money in people’s pockets.'”

While availability of the vaccine is expected to increase in the months ahead, allowing more Americans to be immunized, the “Mad Money” host pointed to restaurants and other small businesses in the services sector, in particular, as areas that need relief now.

“We are not a country where everyone goes to work at steel mills every day, but we are a country where a lot of people go to work at restaurants and hospitality,” said Cramer, who this fall temporarily shuttered his own New York City restaurants due to the pandemic.

He added, “It is a gigantic industry in this country, in this service economy,” where consumer spending makes up more than two-thirds of economic activity in the U.S.

In January, about 12.3 million Americans were employed in food services and drinking places, according to seasonally adjusted figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In November, there were 10.2 million people employed in the category.

“I think that Congress acts as if, ‘You know what, it’s fine. We can wait a couple of months,'” Cramer said, while stressing the urgency. “It’s not like that.”