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Senate debates economic package after agreement reached to limit stimulus checks

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The Senate is debating an economic package Thursday after President Joe Biden and moderate Senate Democrats reached a deal on the stimulus checks that would mean fewer Americans would be eligible for direct payments. Nancy Cordes joins "CBSN AM" to discuss the latest in the negotiations.

Video Transcript

ANNE-MARIE GREEN: Back to Washington now for where the stimulus payments are. They rather are in the spotlight. President Biden and moderate Democrats have agreed to a plan that will limit eligibility for direct relief checks. So let's check in with Nancy Cordes who is at the White House following the very latest on the relief bill.

Of course, this is the top priority for many people. When are they going to see those checks in their bank account? Nancy, we know that Democrats are hoping to pass this bill before the extra unemployment supplement benefits, they run out. That happens in 10 days. What are the steps, the next steps, for this bill when it comes to the Senate?

NANCY CORDES: So in the Senate they are taking their first procedural vote on this bill today at some point, Anne-Marie. We don't know exactly when. But that will kick off 20 hours of debate, so that takes us at least into tomorrow. And then Republicans are vowing to drag the process out as long as they can because we go into this process where either side can offer as many amendments as they want, and so we don't know if that means 70 amendments, 100 amendments 200 amendments.

Republicans are not eager to see this process wrapped up, especially because they know that at the end of the day, Democrats probably do have the 50 votes that they need to pass this thing. And so it's unclear right now whether that amendment process is going to drag through the weekend, but we do anticipate that this bill will likely pass at the end of the day.

Then it has to go back to the House because there are big significant differences between the House bill and the Senate bill. It has to get passed again by the House, and then it would go to the president's desk for his signature. So we're looking, if everything goes well-- and there's always some kind of hiccup on Capitol Hill with big major legislation like this. If everything goes well, we could see this whole process wrapped up in about a week or so.

ANNE-MARIE GREEN: So the last stimulus package, part of the criticism was sometimes the money went to people who didn't really need it. We know that the president reached a deal with moderate Senate Democrats to limit the income eligibility for those stimulus checks. Can you tell us about the politics behind that move?

NANCY CORDES: Sure. So you've got the White House and a lot of Democrats arguing, hey look, if some people who don't need the money get it, that is not the biggest problem in the world. They argue it's still going to stimulate the economy and that the risks of going too small are worse than the risks of going too big. But then you've got moderate Democrats who are arguing, look, we need to show our constituents that we are being responsible with the government's finances and that we're not just handing out cash, that it is targeted to the people who need it.

And so what that meant is that they went back into the negotiating room over these $1,400 stimulus checks. And the bottom line is that you're still going to get that $1,400 check or $2,800 for a couple if you make up to $75,000 a year as an individual, up to $150,000 a year as a couple. But then, the checks phase out more quickly.

So now, just between $75,000 a year and $80,000 a year, if you fit that very narrow band, you get a little bit of a smaller check. And if you're a couple, it's between $150,000 and $160,000 a year. So it's a steeper drop-off. And what that means in practical terms is that there are about nine million American households that got a stimulus check in the last big relief bill last year that won't get one this time around.

On the other hand, we're still looking at about 153 million American households that will get a check. And in their case, those checks will be even bigger than the ones they got last time around because we're talking about $1,400 for every man, woman, and child. So if you're a family of four, you could be getting a $5,600 check.

ANNE-MARIE GREEN: Hmm. Let's switch gears a little bit and talk about the vaccine. The Biden Administration has said it's a priority to get schools back open. A lot of teachers unions say, OK, if that's a priority, why don't you make the teachers a priority too and get them vaccinated before they have to get into the classrooms. Looks like the Administration is making moves to make that a little bit easier for teachers.

NANCY CORDES: Right. Because there is this federal pharmacy program that operates at hundreds of pharmacies around the country where the US government can direct vaccine directly to those pharmacies and can have a say in who gets them. And so what the Biden Administration is saying is that they are going to heavily favor teachers in that program all through the month of March, so teachers should have an easier time getting their vaccines through that program.

Now, that program is just a small slice of the pie. You've got far more vaccine going to state governments, and those cases, the states are the ones who can decide who gets prioritized for the vaccine. And while we know that more than half of the states are prioritizing teachers, there are still about 20 that aren't. And the White House really had to acknowledge yesterday that even though they describe this as a directive from the President of the United States to all states to start prioritizing teachers, they acknowledge that they really don't have any power to compel these states to put teachers and other school staff at the front of the line. All they really have is the bully pulpit of the presidency.

Still, we are seeing some moves. Pennsylvania just announced yesterday that they're getting 100,000 doses of the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine next week, and they're going to be giving all of those vaccines out to teachers and school staff. So clearly, the message is getting through in some states. But when it comes to what the Federal government can actually compel states to do, it's pretty limited.

ANNE-MARIE GREEN: All right. Nancy, thank you for bringing us up to speed on this.

NANCY CORDES: You are welcome.