Biden Vows No Retreat on $1,400 Checks, Open to Tightening Rules
(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden told House Democrats on Wednesday that while he was open to tightening the eligibility for his proposed $1,400 stimulus checks, any move to cut the payments’ base amount would mean starting his presidency with a broken promise.
Biden signaled he wasn’t willing to reduce the standard $1,400 checks, which phase out based on income totals, that were outlined in his aid package, according to participants on the call. Top Senate Democrats said following a subsequent meeting that they were united in pursuing a “big and bold” package.
“We cannot dawdle, we cannot delay, we cannot dilute,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said of Biden’s $1.9 trillion total package, adding that lawmakers and the White House were “united as one” for a big bill.
Republican lawmakers have suggested both reducing the amount of the next round of stimulus checks and sending them to a smaller group of Americans. But shrinking the payment means Biden wouldn’t be able to deliver his campaign promise of $2,000 payments to many Americans, a total that includes previous $600 payments.
Senate Republicans have proposed issuing $1,000 payments for individuals earning as much as $40,000 or couples making twice that, and completely phasing out the payments by $50,000 for singles or $100,000 for married couples.
Despite those differences, Biden told reporters during an Oval Office meeting with Democrats: “I think we’ll get some Republicans.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Biden is open to working with Republicans, but that the president is in lockstep with his staff members, who have urged Democrats to go along with the administration’s plan.
“We will see what proposals that improve the bill, that make it better,” Psaki said. “And there’s certainly an openness to that.”
Schumer said that Democrats “want to do it bipartisan, but we must be strong.”
“We hope our Republican colleagues will join us in that big, bold program that America needs,” he said.
Individuals earning up to $75,000 or couples making as much as $150,000 were eligible for the full stimulus payments in the previous two rounds of coronavirus relief enacted last year. Above those levels, the payments phased out gradually. Congressional Democrats are weighing whether to begin phasing down payments at $50,000 per individual and $100,000 per couple.
Biden also told lawmakers he was more concerned that they would spend too little on a recovery package rather than too much, addressing reservations among some on Capitol Hill who say his proposal is too costly. He added that lawmakers should act quickly on his plan, which also includes billions for vaccine development and distribution along with a minimum wage hike.
Some progressive Democrats are seeking even higher payments, arguing that to fulfill his promise to voters, Biden must increase the checks to $2,000 on top of the $600. The White House has pushed back on that idea.
Biden held at least two meetings at the White House with Democratic senators on Wednesday: first, with Chris Coons and Tom Carper of Delaware, and subsequently with Schumer, Vice President Kamala Harris, and committee leaders. That included Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders.
The sessions come a day after Senate Democrats put the $1.9 trillion stimulus plan on a fast track, increasing the likelihood it eventually passes on a party-line vote. And Biden met earlier this week with a group of 10 Republican senators to discuss their counter-proposal, though the talks did not yield a bipartisan agreement.
With a 50-49 vote Tuesday, the Senate opened debate on a budget resolution for the 2021 fiscal year, a maneuver that would clear the way for the president’s relief plan to pass in the chamber with a simple majority rather than the 60-vote threshold required for most legislation.
The Senate will take up final passage of the resolution on Thursday. The House passed its version of the budget Wednesday evening.
Schumer has said that the process, known as budget reconciliation, is open to GOP participation and the stimulus package can still be tweaked with their input. But he said Democrats won’t risk moving slowly or timidly to bolster the economy.
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