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Republicans move to drag out debate on the Biden $1.9 trillion stimulus to slow down its passage

Ron Johson
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI).
  • Republicans sought to drag out the proceedings on the Democratic stimulus bill on Thursday.
  • Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin forced a reading of the 628-page relief legislation on the Senate floor.
  • Democrats brushed aside the reading as a political stunt, and aim to pass the bill sometime this week.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

The Senate voted along party lines to kick off debate on the $1.9 trillion stimulus plan on Thursday afternoon. 

But Republicans appear intent on dragging out the proceedings to make it as painful as possible on Democrats advancing the measure without GOP support.

The protracted debate could mean Senate passage of the bill could slip sometime into the weekend. Democrats are racing to enact the bill before a March 14 deadline when enhanced unemployment insurance will expire.

Shortly after the vote, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin objected to a motion that would dispense with a reading of the legislation. The move set up a reading of the 628-page bill by Senate clerks, which could take several hours.

"If they're going to add nearly $2T to the national debt at least we should know what's in the bill," the Wisconsin senator wrote in a tweet. 

For at least two hours on Thursday afternoon, Johnson was present in the Senate chamber. He occasionally took notes on a legal pad as clerks read the relief legislation aloud.

The reading was the first step in an apparent GOP bid to slow down passage of the Democratic rescue plan. Democrats are employing a tactic called reconciliation to bypass Republicans and approve the legislation with a simple majority of 51 votes.

Democrats brushed the reading aside, arguing that it amounted to little more than a political stunt.

"We all know this will merely delay the inevitable," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday. "It will accomplish little more than a few sore throats for the Senate clerks, who work very hard, day-in, day-out, to help the Senate function."

Republicans have been staunchly opposed to the measure, contending the bill costs too much and they had little input into its design.

 "The real tragedy here is not Senate process," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday. "It's how ill-suited this bill is to what Americans need right now."

Once the Senate clerks wrap up with the reading, the chamber is expected to start 20 hours of debate. When that concludes, a "vote-a-rama" will get under way.

Republicans are preparing to offer hundreds of amendments to the relief bill. Some of these may deal with the $350 billion in state and local funding, and a push to scale back unemployment benefits. Democrats and Republicans will vote on many of them, but likely not all.

"Historically what's happened is... we offer a couple of hundred amendments on the Republican side," Johnson told reporters today. "And we get a couple of dozen voted on and people tire out. I'm coming up with a process that keeps people from tiring out. I'm getting sign ups. I'm laying out a three-shift schedule."

"I think it's important for the American people and our Democratic colleagues to recognize that when they're going to propose spending money that's not needed and that's wasteful," Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah told reporters on Thursday. "And they lard up a piece of legislation that we're not going to just sit back and take it that we're going to fight back."

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Senior Democrats ditch their backdoor proposal for a $15 minimum wage, throwing pay hike in doubt in $1.9 trillion stimulus package

Bernie Sanders Chuck Schumer Ron Wyden
Sen Bernie Sanders speaks at a news conference alongside other top Democrats.
  • Senior Democrats tossed out a backdoor plan to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, per a person familiar with the decision.
  • The proposal was ditched as Democrats appeared reluctant to finalize a complex plan that could delay stimulus passage.
  • Experts said the backup plan risked being inefficient at raising hourly wages.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Senior Democrats are abandoning their backdoor $15 minimum wage proposal, leaving a wage hike in doubt as they scramble to enact a $1.9 trillion stimulus plan within two weeks.

Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) were in the midst of drafting a plan to levy a 5% tax on the payrolls of large corporations that don't compensate workers below an unspecified wage. It would be paired with tax credits to incentivize small businesses to raise their employees' wages.

The senators ditched their proposal. According to a person familiar with the decision, finalizing the plan and getting every Democrat onboard imperiled the passage of the legislation before the expiration of enhanced unemployment insurance on March 14 for millions of Americans.

The Washington Post first reported the development.

Sanders and Wyden came up with the alternative after the Senate parliamentarian ruled on Thursday evening that a $15 minimum wage provision in the rescue package did not clear the strict guidelines of the reconciliation process. The move blocks the measure from moving ahead under the process Democrats are using, which needs 51 votes in the Senate to bypass Republicans.

Experts said the backup plan risked being inefficient at raising hourly wages. Arindrajit Dube, a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, wrote in an email to Insider that "the devil is in the details."

Dube noted that most minimum wage workers don't work for large corporations, so the plan may encourage those businesses to accelerate outsourcing to third-party contractors to avoid the tax.

"For these reasons, any tax-based minimum wage scheme should be broad-based in my opinion, in contrast to proposals from Senators Sanders and Wyden as I understand them," Dube said. "Senator Wyden's tax incentive to small businesses are also unlikely to be very effective and will largely go to employers who are already paying higher wages."

The move slashes the odds of a wage increase becoming part of the stimulus plan, with little time left to draft legislation that would comply with the budget reconciliation process.

Still, Democrats such as Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, chair of the Senate Banking Committee, say they will find a way to bump the federal minimum wage, which hasn't increased from $7.25 an hour since 2009.

"Democrats are united in giving a raise. We're going to raise wages," he told NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday. "We're going to find a way to. It's just too important not to."

Read the original article on Business Insider

Senior Democrats ditch their backdoor proposal for a $15 minimum wage, throwing pay hike in doubt in $1.9 trillion stimulus package

Bernie Sanders Chuck Schumer Ron Wyden
Sen Bernie Sanders speaks at a news conference alongside other top Democrats.
  • Senior Democrats tossed out a backdoor plan to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, per a person familiar with the decision.
  • The proposal was ditched as Democrats appeared reluctant to finalize a complex plan that could delay stimulus passage.
  • Experts said the backup plan risked being inefficient at raising hourly wages.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Senior Democrats are abandoning their backdoor $15 minimum wage proposal, leaving a wage hike in doubt as they scramble to enact a $1.9 trillion stimulus plan within two weeks.

Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) were in the midst of drafting a plan to levy a 5% tax on the payrolls of large corporations that don't compensate workers below an unspecified wage. It would be paired with tax credits to incentivize small businesses to raise their employees' wages.

The senators ditched their proposal. According to a person familiar with the decision, finalizing the plan and getting every Democrat onboard imperiled the passage of the legislation before the expiration of enhanced unemployment insurance on March 14 for millions of Americans.

The Washington Post first reported the development.

Sanders and Wyden came up with the alternative after the Senate parliamentarian ruled on Thursday evening that a $15 minimum wage provision in the rescue package did not clear the strict guidelines of the reconciliation process. The move blocks the measure from moving ahead under the process Democrats are using, which needs 51 votes in the Senate to bypass Republicans.

Experts said the backup plan risked being inefficient at raising hourly wages. Arindrajit Dube, a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, wrote in an email to Insider that "the devil is in the details."

Dube noted that most minimum wage workers don't work for large corporations, so the plan may encourage those businesses to accelerate outsourcing to third-party contractors to avoid the tax.

"For these reasons, any tax-based minimum wage scheme should be broad-based in my opinion, in contrast to proposals from Senators Sanders and Wyden as I understand them," Dube said. "Senator Wyden's tax incentive to small businesses are also unlikely to be very effective and will largely go to employers who are already paying higher wages."

The move slashes the odds of a wage increase becoming part of the stimulus plan, with little time left to draft legislation that would comply with the budget reconciliation process.

Still, Democrats such as Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, chair of the Senate Banking Committee, say they will find a way to bump the federal minimum wage, which hasn't increased from $7.25 an hour since 2009.

"Democrats are united in giving a raise. We're going to raise wages," he told NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday. "We're going to find a way to. It's just too important not to."

Read the original article on Business Insider

The $15 minimum wage is struck from the Democratic stimulus plan

senator bernie sanders
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
  • The $15 minimum wage was struck from the Democratic rescue plan, per a Senate Democratic aide familiar with the decision.
  • It means the Democratic package will not have a wage increase included for hourly workers.
  • Sanders has played a critical role shepherding the provision through the reconciliation process.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

The Senate parliamentarian ruled on Thursday evening that a $15 minimum wage provision cannot stay in the President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion stimulus package, according to a Senate Democratic aide familiar with the decision.

The parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, said the provision's effect on the federal budget was "merely incidental," the aide said. That violates the strict guidelines under the reconciliation process that Democrats are employing to approve the legislation in the Senate with a simple majority of 51 votes - and circumvent Republicans.

The decision deals a major blow to progressives and Sen. Bernie Sanders, who championed the $15 minimum wage as a pay raise to hourly workers. The federal minimum wage stands at $7.25 an hour and Congress hasn't raised it in over a decade.

He played a critical role pushing the minimum wage increase through the complex process. Sanders chairs the Senate Budget Committee, which has jurisdiction over reconciliation.

Reconciliation carries stringent procedures, key among them the Byrd rule. It outlines that element of a bill must be related to the federal budget. The parliamentarian interprets whether a piece of legislation complies with the guidelines.

Sanders released a statement on Thursday evening criticizing the parliamentarian's decision. "It is hard for me to understand how drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was compliant with the Byrd rule, but raising the minimum wage is not," the Vermont Democrat said, referring to a part of the 2017 GOP tax law.

He added he would introduce an amendment to "to take tax deductions away from large, profitable corporations that don't pay workers at least $15 an hour and to provide small businesses with the incentives they need to raise wages."

However, at least two Democratic senators opposed a $15 minimum wage, and their resistance would have dampened its odds of passage anyway. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia said on Monday he would push to amend the wage increase to $11 an hour instead if it was included in the final package.

Senate Democrats are vowing to approve the bill ahead of March 14, the date when enhanced unemployment insurance programs will start ending for millions of Americans.

The House's draft of the proposal would provide $1,400 stimulus checks and $400 federal unemployment benefits through August. It also includes $160 billion for vaccine distribution virus testing and significant aid for state and local governments.

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The $15 minimum wage is struck from the Democratic stimulus plan

senator bernie sanders
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
  • The $15 minimum wage was struck from the Democratic rescue plan, per a Senate Democratic aide familiar with the decision.
  • It means the Democratic package will not have a wage increase included for hourly workers.
  • Sanders has played a critical role shepherding the provision through the reconciliation process.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

The Senate parliamentarian ruled on Thursday evening that a $15 minimum wage provision cannot stay in the President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion stimulus package, according to a Senate Democratic aide familiar with the decision.

The parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, said the provision's effect on the federal budget was "merely incidental," the aide said. That violates the strict guidelines under the reconciliation process that Democrats are employing to approve the legislation in the Senate with a simple majority of 51 votes - and circumvent Republicans.

The decision deals a major blow to progressives and Sen. Bernie Sanders, who championed the $15 minimum wage as a pay raise to hourly workers. The federal minimum wage stands at $7.25 an hour and Congress hasn't raised it in over a decade.

He played a critical role pushing the minimum wage increase through the complex process. Sanders chairs the Senate Budget Committee, which has jurisdiction over reconciliation.

Reconciliation carries stringent procedures, key among them the Byrd rule. It outlines that element of a bill must be related to the federal budget. The parliamentarian interprets whether a piece of legislation complies with the guidelines.

Sanders released a statement on Thursday evening criticizing the parliamentarian's decision. "It is hard for me to understand how drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was compliant with the Byrd rule, but raising the minimum wage is not," the Vermont Democrat said, referring to a part of the 2017 GOP tax law.

He added he would introduce an amendment to "to take tax deductions away from large, profitable corporations that don't pay workers at least $15 an hour and to provide small businesses with the incentives they need to raise wages."

However, at least two Democratic senators opposed a $15 minimum wage, and their resistance would have dampened its odds of passage anyway. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia said on Monday he would push to amend the wage increase to $11 an hour instead if it was included in the final package.

Senate Democrats are vowing to approve the bill ahead of March 14, the date when enhanced unemployment insurance programs will start ending for millions of Americans.

The House's draft of the proposal would provide $1,400 stimulus checks and $400 federal unemployment benefits through August. It also includes $160 billion for vaccine distribution virus testing and significant aid for state and local governments.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Emergency monthly checks for parents could turn permanent under Senate Democrats’ push

Sherrod Brown
Sen. Sherrod Brown.
  • Senate Democrats want to make permanent a program that would temporarily provide checks to families.
  • Sen. Sherrod Brown said he wanted to tie it to a plan for postal banking.
  • Under a House plan, families could get a monthly check of $250 or $300 per child starting on July 1.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Senate Democrats said on Thursday they would seek later this year to turn a proposed emergency federal check program for parents into a permanent piece of the American social safety net.

"As soon as we pass the Recovery Act, we will fight to make it permanent and to make sure they can get the checks monthly if they choose," Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio told reporters on a press call.

Brown was referring to a plan to dramatically revamp the child tax credit, a top Democratic priority in the $1.9 trillion stimulus package. It aims to provide $3,600 over the year to families with children ages 5 and under and send $3,000 to those with kids between 6 and 17.

Under the House proposal, families could either receive a monthly check of $250 or $300 per child starting on July 1. The payments would start phasing out for individuals earning $75,000 a year and couples making $150,000. Researchers at Columbia University projected that the measure could cut the child poverty rate in half.

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimated the provision's cost at $120 billion.

Brown, the chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, added that he would unveil a plan allowing the Federal Reserve to establish bank accounts at post offices and credit unions for people who don't have one at a commercial bank. The step would allow users to deposit their paychecks or receive federal benefits, such as the monthly payments.

"It costs so much to be poor, and people get hit with check-cashing fees and preyed on by payday lenders," Brown said. "We want to build all of that together with some permanence."

About 8.4 million households were unbanked in 2017, according to a national survey from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Democrats are rushing to enact President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion stimulus plan by March 14, the deadline when enhanced unemployment-insurance programs start expiring. House Democrats set a Friday vote for the relief legislation, and the Senate is expected to take it up next week.

Republicans are slamming the package as a wish list of progressive priorities, though polls indicate it has strong support from the public. Some GOP senators assailed the monthly check program as a form of welfare.

"Sending $250/$350 per month/per child to everyone, with no work requirement, is welfare," Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said in a recent tweet. "Being pro-family means being pro-work. Our expanded Child Tax Credit idea is a far better approach."

Rubio previously supported a plan to allow families paying payroll taxes instead of income taxes to claim the child tax credit, a move directed at bolstering employment.

At least one Republican senator supports distributing monthly checks to families. Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah released another child-benefit plan that would provide larger cash payments to families, financed by merging several federal initiatives into one and repealing a state and local tax deduction known as SALT.

Read the original article on Business Insider

The $15 minimum wage poses a major hurdle for Senate Democrats as they race to pass the $1.9 trillion stimulus

Joe Manchin
Sen. Joe Manchin on Capitol Hill.
  • Senate Democrats face a major hurdle: how to pass a $15 minimum wage.
  • Two Democratic senators already say they oppose it, jeopardizing its path ahead.
  • A Senate parliamentarian ruling will decide whether it can be included in the final stimulus plan.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Senate Democrats want to enact a new $1.9 trillion rescue package within weeks, but one major hurdle stands between them and the bill's final passage: whether it will include a $15 minimum wage increase.

Once the House approves the legislation and sends it to the Senate, the wage provision is likely to spark some clashes among Democratic senators. The minimum-wage increase in the Biden rescue plan would be phased in over five years and eliminate tipped wages. 

Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have both said they oppose the measure. The resistance of these two lawmakers imperils the measure  even if it clears all the hurdles required of a reconciliation package (the strict budgetary procedure that Democrats are employing to bypass Republicans). A looming ruling from the Senate parliamentarian will likely pose obstacles.

"There might be a few other Democrats with pretty significant concerns about the minimum wage increase," Jim Manley, a former senior Democratic aide, said in an interview. "No matter how the parliamentarian rules, I'm not sure the votes are there in the Senate to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour."

The Senate parliamentarian serves as a neutral arbiter of reconciliation, a process that will allow Democrats to approve a bill with a simple majority of 51 votes in the upper chamber instead of the usual 60. Reconciliation requires every provision of a bill to be related to the federal budget, or else the parliamentarian can toss it out.

If the minimum wage doesn't survive this process, that could complicate Democrats' swift timeline for approval, targeted for mid-March. But even if it does survive, in an evenly divided chamber where Vice President Kamala Harris can break ties, every Democrat must support the final package.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, chair of the Senate Budget Committee with jurisdiction over reconciliation, told reporters on Tuesday a ruling may come in the next day or two. Progressives like Sanders are championing the measure as a boon to low-paid workers.

$11 an hour versus $15 an hour

The federal minimum wage hasn't been raised from $7.25 since 2009, and labor advocates say a bill should lift wages for essential workers and others putting themselves at risk in the pandemic.

"To say that we can support jobless workers, teachers, caregivers, and medical professionals without supporting workers earning $7.25 an hour isn't just bad policy, it's inhumane," Elizabeth Pancotti, policy director of Employ America, said on Twitter. "Economic relief must include raising the minimum wage."

But Republicans argue that raising wages during a pandemic would cause employers to shed jobs. Some Democrats share those concerns as well.

"I think small business has got to be kept in mind, and I think there are a number of different variations that are being proposed that help insulate the impact in terms of small business," Sen. John Hickenlooper of Colorado told the Wall Street Journal.

A report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office indicated the $15 minimum wage plan would cause 1.4 million job losses, but lift 900,000 people out of poverty. 

There is some GOP support to raise wages. On Tuesday, Sens. Mitt Romney and Tom Cotton introduced legislation to raise the minimum wage to $10 over four years once the pandemic is over. They would also tie it to mandatory use of the E-Verify program so employers can keep tabs on the immigration status of their workers.

"If we don't have the $15 proposal as part of reconciliation, we'll need to sit down and work on a bipartisan proposal," Romney told reporters on Tuesday. "And we're open to considering other people's points of view."

But many Democrats are eager to press ahead on their own without Republican votes. Sanders recently expressed confidence that the pay bump would clear the stringent reconciliation process and garner enough Democratic votes for passage.

"I think we're going to pass it as it is," he told reporters on Monday. "The Democrats are going to support the president of the United States and the overwhelming majority of the American people want to pass this Covid emergency bill."

But that's not holding back some Democrats from pitching ideas about a lower wage increase in the final legislation. Manchin told reporters on Monday evening he would try to offer an amendment to the legislation.

"I would amend it to $11," he said. "We can do $11 in two years and be in a better position than they're going to be with $15 in five years."

The $15 minimum wage enjoys strong public support. Over 60% of respondents in a new Insider poll published Tuesday would definitely or probably support a $15 minimum wage. 

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Joe Biden is continuing his push to approve his $1.9 trillion stimulus package even as the Trump impeachment trial proceeds

Joe Biden
President Joe Biden.
  • Biden continued gathering support for his relief package even as the Trump impeachment trial got underway.
  • Democrats are sticking to an aggressive timeline on coronavirus relief.
  • A floor vote in both the House and Senate seemed possible within weeks.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

President Joe Biden pressed ahead with his $1.9 trillion emergency spending package throughout the week even as the second impeachment trial for former President Donald Trump got underway.

A split-screen appeared on Friday. As the trial started reaching its end, Biden continued attempting to muster support for his stimulus package. He met with a bipartisan group of mayors and governors to make his case for robust funding for strapped state and local governments.

The president has refused to get dragged into the impeachment proceedings, arguing there were bigger crises at hand. Biden recently said he was not watching the trial. Last month, Democrats charged Trump with an article of impeachment for instigating the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol that left five people dead.

"We have already lost over 450,000 people, and we could lose a whole lot more if we don't act and act decisively," Biden said on Tuesday. "As I have said before, children are going to bed hungry. A lot of families are food-insecure. They are in trouble. That's my job."

House committees were set to wrap up their markups of the legislative text on Friday, and a key panel cleared the biggest portion of the legislation with $1,400 direct payments for individuals making up to $75,000 a year.

It also includes $400 weekly federal unemployment benefits, assistance to state and local governments, and $160 billion in vaccine distribution and virus testing funds among other measures.

Meanwhile, Speaker Nancy Pelosi doubled down on her aggressive timeline to get the legislation approved in Congress.

"We hope to have this all done by the end of February, certainly on the President's desk in time to offset the March 14th deadline where some unemployment benefits will expire," Pelosi said on Thursday.

With nine House committees finished, it will go to the House Budget Committee next week, which is tasked with compiling the bills into one piece of legislation. The House Rules Committee will set the terms of debate with Democrats gearing up for a floor vote during the week of February 22.

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Senate Democrats kick off ‘vote-a-rama’ as they press ahead to approve Biden’s stimulus package without GOP votes

sto

Bernie Sanders
  • The Senate kicked off a "vote-a-rama" on Thursday.
  • Any senator can file an amendment to a resolution which will unlock the procedures for Democrats to approve the Biden rescue package in a party-line vote.
  • Republicans filed 550 amendments but only a portion will be brought up for a vote. 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Senate Democrats kicked off a rowdy "vote-a-rama" on Thursday afternoon, barreling ahead with efforts to secure the passage President Joe Biden's rescue package without any Republican votes. 

Any senator during the vote-a-rama can propose an amendment to the budget resolution, which is expected to be approved. Its ratification would unlock a process in the chamber for Democrats to pass President Joe Biden's rescue package through a simple majority vote instead of the 60 votes typically required.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, the chair of the Senate Budget Committee, said in a floor speech that Republicans had filed 550 amendments while Democrats proposed none.  He called for lawmakers to "finish the job" and swiftly provide economic relief during a period of distress for many families.

Only a portion of the 550 amendments are expected to be brought up for a vote after a two minutes of debate for each measure.

"I have a feeling it will be a very long night, but we'll get out of here at some point," the Vermont senator said. It could stretch on into the early Friday morning hours. 

The vote-a-rama is part of the reconciliation process that Democrats are undertaking to pass President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion economic rescue package in a party-line vote.

Republicans had warned Democrats in recent days they would be filing a barrage of amendments. Some are expected to put political pressure on Democrats by forcing them to vote on contentious issues like a $15 minimum wage and the Keystone Pipeline.

"Senate Republicans will be ready and waiting with a host of amendments to improve the rushed procedural step that's being jammed through," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told the Senate floor Tuesday.

This story will be continuously updated.

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Biden tells Democrats he’s open to negotiating who can get a $1,400 stimulus check

Joe Biden
  • President Joe Biden has expressed a willingness to negotiate who can get a third stimulus check during a call with House Democrats.
  • "We can better target the number — I'm OK with that," Biden said, The Times reported.
  • Calls to target a fresh wave of $1,400 stimulus checks for lower-income households are gaining steam in Congress.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

President Joe Biden told House Democrats during a caucus call on Wednesday morning that he is open to compromising around who can get a $1,400 stimulus check.

"We can't walk away from an additional $1,400 in direct checks, because people need it," he said, per The New York Times. "I'm not going to start my administration by breaking a promise to people."

"We can better target the number - I'm OK with that," Biden later said. A person briefed on the call confirmed to Insider that the president said he was willing to negotiate on direct payments.

Biden later met with a group of Democratic senators in the White House to discuss his proposed $1.9 trillion emergency spending package. It includes provisions such as a fresh wave of $1,400 stimulus checks, $400 federal unemployment benefits, vaccine distribution funds, and aid for states and cities.

In recent days, Biden and other White House officials have suggested they are willing to modify the income thresholds on stimulus checks but not reducing their amount. Jen Psaki, the White House spokesperson, said it was under negotiations.

"Further targeting means not the size of the check, it means the income level of people who receive the check," she said on Wednesday. "That's something that is under discussion."

Under the Biden plan, individuals earning under $75,000 would get the full amount, along with married couples making below $150,000. The threshold is capped at $99,000 for single-filers and $198,000 for couples.

"We did have a conversation about the direct payments and how those might be modified to ensure they are targeted," Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware told reporters after meeting with Biden. The senator added he would personally not back a relief plan that contained no funding for state and local governments.

Biden's remarks reflect a willingness to negotiate on certain components of his economic relief package without shrinking its overall size. On Tuesday, the president urged Democrats during a Senate lunch to go big.

Democrats are dashing to enact his plan through reconciliation, a legislative maneuver that would allow them to approve it with a simple majority vote in the Senate and avoid the 60-vote threshold for most bills. The process kicked off on Tuesday without any GOP lawmakers voting for it.

Republicans and some Democrats are expressing concern that the government could end up cutting checks for wealthy households with six-figure incomes. Sen. Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, told reporters on Capitol Hill on Tuesday that the federal government sending a cash payment to a family making $300,000 was "hard to defend."

A group of Republican senators led by Susan Collins of Maine put forward a $618 billion plan on Monday that would cut off $1,000 direct payments for individuals earning more than $50,000 a year and couples making $100,000.

The measure significantly scales back the income parameters and reduces the cash amount. Several economists project at least 29 million households that qualify under the Biden plan would be excluded in the Republican proposal. 

It remains unclear what income thresholds lawmakers will settle on as negotiations continue.

Experts say the social safety net provides little aid for people who have suffered lost hours or wage cuts without losing their jobs. A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicated over 20% of people earning between $50,000 and $75,000 yearly who lost work experienced food insecurity at some point in the pandemic.

"If you don't lose your job, in a lot of places of America there isn't help for you right now," Ernie Tedeschi, policy economist at Evercore ISI, told Insider.

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