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Who Gets a Stimulus Check? Biden’s Willing to Negotiate

Michael Rainey
·4-min read

Responding to concerns from lawmakers about his proposed $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan, President Joe Biden said Monday that he’s willing to discuss the size and scope of the bill — including eligibility for the $1,400 direct payments he’s proposed.

White House National Economic Council Director Brian Deese told CNBC Tuesday that Biden is willing to negotiate the value of the direct relief payments included in the bill, among other things. “When it comes to the checks, we put forward a proposal that ... passed the House with 275 votes — 44 Republicans voted for it,” Deese said. “Certainly, if there are ways to make that provision, and other provisions, more effective, that’s something that we’re open to, that we’ll have conversations about.

Biden also said Monday that he still hopes that a relief bill will pass with support from both parties, even as reports indicate that congressional Democrats are preparing to use the budget reconciliation process to advance a bill with or without Republican support. “I prefer these things to be bipartisan,” Biden said at the White House.

Biden said that he thought his current proposal, which is similar to the relief bill that passed the House in December with bipartisan backing, would earn support from both sides of the aisle, but he understood why some lawmakers might call for changes. “Because it was bipartisan, I thought it would increase the prospects of passage — the additional $1,400 in direct cash payment to folks,” he said. “Well, there’s legitimate reason for people to say, ‘Do you have the lines drawn the exact right way? Should it go to anybody making over X-number of dollars or why?’”

Talk, but talk fast: Biden added that he thought negotiations over the bill were just beginning. At the same time, he said he wanted to move quickly, and that he could not be sure that Republicans would support a bill in the end. “The decision to use reconciliation will depend upon how these negotiations go,” Biden said. “I don't expect we'll know whether we have an agreement — and to what extent the entire package will be able to pass or not pass — until we get right down to the very end of this process, which will be probably in a couple weeks.”

Vote as soon as next week: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said Tuesday that lawmakers could vote as soon as next week on Biden’s relief bill, possibly setting the stage for passage via reconciliation. “The work must move forward, preferably with our Republican colleagues but without them if we must,” Schumer said. “Time is of the essence to address this crisis.”

While Biden still talking about bipartisan cooperation, Democratic leaders are preparing to release a budget resolution as soon as next Monday, with votes coming later in the week, The Washington Post reported. The resolution would allow lawmakers to write a bill based on Biden’s relief proposal, and for it to pass with a simple majority.

Targeting relief checks: One of the complaints some lawmakers have about Biden’s proposal is that it would provide relief checks worth as much as $1,400 to most American households, including those earning over $100,000 a year, some of which may not need the help. A new report out Tuesday suggests that it may make sense to target lower-income households for relief, since they have been hit harder by the pandemic and are more in need of the money.

According to an analysis by Opportunity Insights, a nonprofit research group, data on the most recent round of direct payments indicates that relief payments have been treated very differently by households at different income levels: Those earning less than $75,000 a year have been more likely to spend them quickly, while those with income above that level have been more likely to save them, suggesting they don’t need the cash nearly as much.

“Targeting the stimulus payments to lower-income households would both better support the households most in need and provide a large boost to the economy in the short-run,” said economist John Friedman of Opportunity Insights. “These checks are really impactful for lower-income households.”

The Washington Post’s Heather Long, who wrote about the analysis Tuesday, spelled out the difference in cost and benefit for providing checks to higher-income families. “The price tag to send another round of checks to couples earning more than $75,000 and singles earning more than $50,000 would be $200 billion, yet the researchers estimate this group is only likely to spend $15 billion of that money — about 7 percent.”

The reason for the difference is pretty straightforward, Long says: For higher-income households, the recession is largely over. But for low-income households, the recession is more like a depression, with unemployment rates hovering near 20%.

“Low-income households have suffered by far the biggest economic shock,” Friedman said. “They need the help the most.”

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