Biden, Senate Democrats Strike Deal on Stimulus Check Thresholds, Unemployment Boost

March 4, 2021 Updated: March 4, 2021

President Joe Biden and Senate Democrats reached a deal on key provisions of the COVID-19 relief bill on March 3 that will see the pandemic unemployment benefit top-up stay at $400 through August, while eligibility thresholds for the $1,400 direct payments to U.S. families will be tighter.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked at a March 3 briefing to confirm if Biden had signed off on reduced income thresholds for the $1,400 direct payments, namely starting the ramp at $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 for joint filers, and phasing it out to zero at $80,000 for individuals and $160,000 for joint filers, respectively.

“He is comfortable with where the negotiations stand,” Psaki said, adding that Biden is firm on the amount of the $1,400 checks, but has been “open to changes on the margins of this package.”

“There’s been negotiations about trying to lower that to $1,000 or change the size of the check—he’s unmovable on that,” Psaki said.

“But he also knows that the sausage-making machine sometimes spits out a different package,” she said, adding that Biden is “hopeful that Democrats of all political backgrounds can get behind” the current draft of the rescue bill.

Epoch Times Photo
White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during the daily press briefing at the White House on March 2, 2021. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who wanted the extra weekly unemployment payments to be cut to $300 from $400, told Politico he finds Biden’s proposal acceptable and doesn’t plan to introduce any amendments to modify it.

“It’s going to be a good package that’s going to help an awful lot of people. And it’s targeted. The main thing is, it’s targeted to get to people in need,” Manchin told the outlet.

Republicans have denounced the $1.9 trillion relief package for provisions unrelated to the pandemic and have panned parts of the bill as a “liberal wish list.”

Just before the bill passed the House last week, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) took aim at its bevy of non-COVID-19-related spending, alleging it caters to “special interest allies” and proclaiming that “the swamp is back.”

“The amount of money that actually goes to defeating the virus is less than 9 percent,” McCarthy said, alleging that Democrats were “so embarrassed by all the non-COVID waste in this bill that they are jamming it through in the dead of night.”

The bill passed around 2 a.m. by a vote of 219–212, with all Republicans and two Democrats voting opposed.

Kevin McCarthy
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) speaks at the weekly news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Dec. 3, 2020. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

As the package was poised to head to the Senate for a vote on March 4, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) echoed McCarthy’s view that the bill is padded with non-pandemic spending priorities.

“I’m not going to get punked and we shouldn’t get pressured into voting for something that isn’t what it says it is and that people are going to regret once this thing passes and they see what’s in it,” Rubio told Fox News on March 3.

Speaking on the floor of the upper chamber on March 3, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) refuted Republican claims that the package is a “liberal wish list.”

“This is an American wish list,” Schumer said. “When people want checks to help them get out of the morass, that’s not a liberal wish list. That’s what the American people want.”

Biden spoke to the House Democratic caucus on March 3. “Every single piece of the bill you passed addresses a genuine, desperate need for the American people. Each piece isn’t just defensible, it is urgent and overwhelmingly supported by the people. It’s good policy and it’s good politics.”

Joe Biden
President Joe Biden speaks about his administration’s COVID-19 response, in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington on March 2, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

At the presser, Psaki was also asked about $350 billion of the bill going toward state and local government aid, in the face of suggestions by a number of economists and think tanks that argue something between $100 million to $225 million is more appropriate.

Psaki responded by pointing to the 1.3 million state and local government jobs lost since the beginning of the pandemic, as well as 32 states reporting revenue shortfalls compared to 2019.

“We’re still at the height of a pandemic. The pandemic has not concluded at this point in time. And they’re also looking ahead to what their needs are down the road,” Psaki said.

“We were meeting the needs and the requests of state and local leaders, consistent with what we’ve seen statistically about the job losses.”

The Senate will now vote on whether to consider the bill, after which the chamber will engage in debate and finish with a series of amendment votes. Considering and voting on amendments could turn into a marathon, as has happened in the past on controversial legislation.

“I’m hoping for infinity,” said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

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