Senate Democrats have reached an agreement with the White House to tighten the limits on who can receive the next round of stimulus checks as part of President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, according to several Democratic sources.
The change comes after demands from moderate Democrats to make sure the latest round of checks is targeted at lower-income families. The full amount of the checks remains unchanged at $1,400, but the amount would phase out quickly for higher earners.
The Senate plan would still allow individuals earning up to $75,000 per year and couples earning up to $150,000 per year to receive the full benefit. But the payments would phase out more quickly and end entirely for individuals earning $80,000 or more and couples earning $160,000 or more. The cutoffs in the House bill were much higher, with individuals earning up to $100,000 and couples earning up to $200,000 still receiving some benefit.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters at the White House that Biden is pleased with the progress on the bill and has always been aware that there would be suggestions and negotiations while finalizing the bill.
"He has been open from the beginning for that being more targeted and for there to be a steeper cliff at which that ramp-down ends," Psaki said. "He is comfortable with where the negotiations stand. Of course there will be ongoing discussions."
Some liberal House Democrats, particularly those representing larger cities with higher living costs, have argued in the past that lower phaseouts for the checks discriminate against single parents in those areas. So far, none has explicitly weighed in on the bill.
There are also concerns that the payments will be based on 2019 income unless taxpayers have already filed their 2020 tax returns and had them accepted by the IRS. That means people who lost jobs or income in 2020 but have not yet filed their taxes might miss out on the full value of the payment for weeks or, possibly, until tax time next year.
Senate Democrats and the White House also agreed to keep a provision that would increase federal unemployment benefits to $400 per week through the end of August.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said he hopes Republicans will unanimously oppose the bill, meaning the bill will need unanimous support from Senate Democrats to pass.
"Just a few days ago, President Biden's chief of staff bragged that this smorgasbord of borrowed money will add up to 'the most progressive domestic legislation in a generation,' " McConnell said on the Senate floor. "The Democrats had a choice. They chose to go it alone, tack to the left and leave families' top priorities on the cutting-room floor."
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has defended the legislation as a sweeping effort to address all areas of the ailing economy, from personal finances and ailing state and local budgets to small-business needs and funding for vaccines. He dismissed criticism that the economy has improved from the worst periods of last year.
"We cannot go through the situation we did back in 2009 where the stimulus wasn't strong enough and we stayed in recession for years," Schumer said. "Just because the numbers are not as bad as they were doesn't mean that we don't need a continued strong push to get us out of this ditch and go upward and forward."
The Senate could begin consideration of the coronavirus relief legislation as early as Wednesday, pending a final assessment from the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation.
Under Senate budget rules, there will be up to 20 hours of debate on the legislation after the Senate proceeds to the bill. After those 20 hours expire, the Senate starts another series of unlimited amendments.
The amendment process has no set end. Senators can offer as many amendments as they want. Some Republicans have suggested they plan to offer many, many amendments as a kind of protest over the partisan legislation. In many cases, these are to make a political point to put vulnerable senators up for reelection in 2022 in a tough spot.
Amendments can pass with a simple majority, but that does not mean that all amendments that do pass will be included in the final bill. The Senate majority leader can, and likely will, offer one final amendment that incorporates the provisions with unanimous support among Democrats and excludes anything controversial.
The timing of a final vote is unclear and will depend on the amendment process. If the legislation passes, the House will need to revote on the final version of the bill before it can be signed into law.