What’s next for $1,400 checks? Biden weighs lower income threshold, Senate vote looms

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Summer Lin
·4 min read
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After the U.S. House of Representatives approved President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus deal and sent it to the Senate, White House officials indicated Biden is open to lowering the income threshold for direct payments.

The legislation passed by the House last week includes $1,400 direct payments for individuals making up to $75,000 a year and married couples earning up to $150,000 a year. The new plan has a faster phase-out than in previous proposals, capping payments at $100,000 for individuals and $200,000 for couples.

The bill would also expand the child tax credit for couples to $3,600 per child under age 6 and $3,000 for children ages six to 17. Currently, families get $2,000 per child under age 17.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Fox News Sunday that Biden is willing to lower the maximum income for stimulus check eligibility to “ensure they hit the Americans who need that help the most.” But Psaki reiterated that Biden is unwilling to lower the size of the checks from $1,400.

Some Republicans have balked at the cost of the package and called for more “targeted” relief for families during the pandemic by lowering the income threshold requirements for direct payments. A group of 10 Republican senators released a counteroffer last month that would provide $1,000 stimulus checks for individuals making up to $40,000 a year and phase them out completely when income reaches $50,000.

The House passed Biden’s plan 219-212 early Saturday mostly along party lines. All Republicans opposed the bill and all but two Democrats voted to pass the legislation.

Democrats are hoping to pass the stimulus deal into law before Mar. 14, the day that $300 weekly unemployment benefits approved in December’s coronavirus package expire. That timeline has added to lawmakers’ desire to use the reconciliation process, which allows for “expedited consideration” of legislation on spending, taxes and debt and only requires a simple majority for passage, rather than 60 votes.

The bill is now headed to the Senate, where Democrats have a narrow 50-50 majority with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as a tiebreaker. Senate lawmakers will then offer amendments to the plan and pass their own version of the legislation.

The House will have to either approve the Senate’s plan or meet with the chamber to draft a finalized bill before it can head to Biden’s desk and be signed into law.

What’s next in the Senate?

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, could bring the legislation to the Senate floor as soon as Wednesday, CNN reported.

After the deal is brought to the floor, 20 hours of debate will begin and the Senate will kick off a marathon of voting, known as a “vote-a-rama,” according to CNN. The bill could pass on Friday morning based on the timelines of previous vote-a-ramas.

The Senate version of the bill will include changes from Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough, a nonpartisan interpreter of chamber rules.

MacDonough ruled last week that the stimulus deal including a federal minimum wage increase to $15 per hour — as passed by the House — can’t be passed in the Senate under reconciliation.

Her ruling means a deal including a minimum wage hike would require 60 votes in the Senate. Reconciliation would have allowed Democrats in the Senate to bypass that 60-vote requirement for advancing the legislation including a minimum wage hike and instead only need a simple majority.

The bill without a minimum wage increase can still pass under reconciliation.Under the reconciliation process, Democrats will need the support of every senator from their party in order to pass the legislation without any GOP votes.

The relief deal has seen strong opposition from Republicans.

“The partisan bill Democrats are preparing is stuffed with non-COVID-related liberal goals and more band-aid policies as if the country were going to stay shut down another year,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said last week.

Sen. Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican, called the legislation a “clunker” in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.

Other GOP senators have indicated they won’t vote for the legislation.

“What we’re looking at now is whether there are changes that we could make. But I would be surprised if there was support in the Republican caucus if the bill comes out at $1.9 trillion even if we’re able to make some beneficial changes,” said Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, according to The Hill.