WASHINGTON — Stimulus payments are likely to be further targeted than President Joe Biden wanted in the next federal virus aid package after the Senate nearly unanimously passed an amendment championed by Maine’s senators to ensure high earners do not receive checks.
Senators convened Thursday afternoon to vote on more than 100 amendments as part of a “vote-a-rama,” a string of mostly symbolic votes that could last into Friday. It is a key feature of the budget reconciliation procedure that would allow Democrats to pass a relief bill without Republican support. Democrats have rallied around a $1.9 trillion proposal from President Joe Biden that includes a range of their priorities, including $1,400 stimulus checks.
The amendment, led by Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, and backed by a bipartisan group including Angus King, I-Maine, would render “upper-income taxpayers” ineligible from receiving stimulus checks. But it is ultimately symbolic and nonbinding and does not specify at what level a person qualifies as upper income.
Biden told House Democrats on Wednesday that he views the package’s proposal for $1,400 in direct payments to individuals as a foundational promise to voters. It represents a bet by the White House that voters will suspend partisan beliefs to evaluate and support the massive plan.
The president has suggested he may be flexible on the $1.9 trillion topline figure for the plan and on ways to more narrowly target who gets direct payments. But the $1,400 amount — on top of $600 in payments approved in December — appears to be nonnegotiable.
“I’m not going to start my administration by breaking a promise to the American people,” he said.
In Biden’s initial proposal, the $1,400 checks would start to phase out above $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 for married couples. Because of the size of the checks, families with multiple children could still receive some payment even if they made more than $200,000.
A group of Republicans led by Collins offered an alternative of payments capped at $1,000 and restricted to people earning up to $50,000 a year as a single filer and $100,000 if filing jointly. Dependents would receive $500, as opposed to the full $1,400 in Biden’s plan.
On Capitol Hill, Democrats pushed ahead on Thursday with the budget process that will pave the way for eventually passing the aid. Senators readied for an all-night session to consider the amendments that could define the contours of the eventual bill.
The Biden package comes after $4 trillion in rescue spending that cushioned the financial blow from the pandemic but did little to stop the disease. It includes divisive provisions such as a $15 hourly minimum wage and $350 billion in aid for state and local governments. The Collins-led counteroffer was a $618 billion package, one-third of what Biden is offering.
Biden entered the presidency with Americans generally hopeful about his ability to fight the pandemic and guide the economy. About three-quarters said they have at least some confidence in his ability to handle the coronavirus, while roughly two-thirds had at least some confidence in his economic leadership, according to a poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
Most Americans still see the need for stimulus. A survey released Wednesday by Quinnipiac University found 68 percent of U.S. adults support Biden’s stimulus package and 24 percent oppose it. But Republicans are divided on the measure, with 47 percent opposed and 37 percent favoring it. Nearly all Democrats backed the plan.
But even Republican lawmakers who are supportive of some kind of aid are telling their voters Biden’s plan is too expensive — and it’s possible people could be turned off if they think stimulus dollars are being wasted.
The group of GOP senators behind the counterproposal told Biden in a letter Thursday that they had significant questions about the “size and scope” of his plan given how much Congress already has allocated and the more than $60 billion in emergency assistance they said states and districts have yet to spend on public schools.
Republicans are betting Biden will pay a price politically if he doesn’t take a bipartisan tack. By contrast, Democrats hope Republicans will pay a price if voters don’t see them engaging with the fullness of the crisis.
The United States has lost roughly 10 million jobs because of the pandemic, and the Congressional Budget Office estimates that without additional aid, they won’t return in full until 2024. The Census Bureau estimates one in eight households with children lacks sufficient food.
Story by Josh Boak and Lisa Mascaro. BDN writer Jessica Piper contributed to this report.