USA TODAY US Edition
Deal would limit who can receive pandemic aid
Relief bill reportedly would phase out checks for people earning $80,000 instead of $100,000, according to deal between Biden and Democrats.
WASHINGTON – Senate Democrats reached a deal with President Joe Biden to limit the eligibility for $1,400 checks in his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, phasing the payments out for Americans earning more than $80,000, according to two sources familiar with the deliberations not authorized to speak on the record.
The tweak is a goal of moderates who did not want the checks to go to wealthier Americans.
The checks would start to phase out at $75,000 and phase out entirely at $80,000 of income for individuals, as opposed to about $100,000 in the version of the legislation passed by the House last week. Joint filers would have their checks phase out starting at $150,000 and entirely at $160,000.
The change could mean many Americans who could have received at least some payment will now receive none.
The deal kept a federal boost to unemployment benefits at $400 a week through August, the sources said, rather than September as liberals such as Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., advocated.
The compromise clears the way for the Senate to push forward on the bill. They could take a procedural vote to begin debate on the bill as soon as Wednesday evening, meaning the bill could pass the full Senate by the end of the week. Democrats aim to pass the bill through the Senate and back again through the House by mid-March, when the federal boost to unemployment benefits expires.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden is “pleased with the progress” in talks over his COVID-19 relief plan but said that he’s firm on the thresholds at which Americans should receive the $1,400 checks. Pressed on whether Biden agreed to more limited eligibility on the relief checks, Psaki said, “He is comfortable with where the negotiations stand.”
Some Senate Democrats signaled they would support the compromise. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., told reporters it would be a “reasonable compromise” to phase out the checks faster.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., indicated she liked the original version, saying, “I think the package as it was originally crafted is good to go.”
Liberal Democrats signaled their displeasure with the change but did not indicate they would block passage of the bill when it comes back to the House next week over the change.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., who chairs the Progressive Caucus, said, “I don’t like that this is being narrowed. I feel like the survival checks are the easiest, simplest, most popular ... proposal.” She wants to look more closely.
Moderate Senate Democrats such as Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., had pushed Biden to tighten the eligibility and had huddled with the president earlier in the week. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., described it as a discussion on better “targeting” the spending in the bill.
Manchin had pushed for the checks to phase out after $50,000, though the House drafted a $75,000 threshold. He signaled he would support the changes, telling reporters Wednesday he was “very pleased with the discussions and dialogues and some changes that have been agreed upon” though he wanted to see the final version of the legislation.