On March 3, President Joe Biden and Senate Democrats reached an agreement on key aspects of the COVID-19 relief bill, which would keep the pandemic unemployment insurance top-up at $400 until August, while tightening the eligibility thresholds for the $1,400 direct payments to U.S. families.
At a March 3 press conference, White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked if Biden had given his approval to lower income thresholds for the $1,400 direct payments, with the ramp beginning at $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 for joint filers, and phasing down to zero at $80,000 for individuals and $160,000 for joint filers, respectively.
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“He is satisfied with where the talks are,” Psaki said, adding that Biden is firm on the $1,400 checks but is “open to improvements on the margins of this package.”
“There have been talks about lowering it to $1,000 or changing the size of the check, but he won’t budge,” Psaki said.
“But he also understands that the sausage-making machine spits out a new bundle every now and then,” she said, adding that Biden is “hopeful that Democrats of all political stripes will get behind” the latest draft of the rescue bill.
Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who wanted the extra weekly unemployment benefits reduced to $300 from $400, told Politico that he considered Biden’s proposal satisfactory and has no plans to change it.
“It’ll be a nice kit that will benefit a lot of people,” he says. It’s also targeted. The most important thing is that it is tailored to reach out to those who are in need,” Manchin told the outlet.
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Republicans also slammed the $1.9 trillion relief package for including measures unrelated to the pandemic, calling portions of it a “liberal wish list.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) attacked the bill’s non-COVID-19 spending just before it passed the House last week, accusing it of catering to “special interest allies” and declaring that “the swamp is back.”
McCarthy said that Democrats were “so humiliated by all the non-COVID waste in this bill that they are ramming it through in the dead of night,” claiming that “the amount of money that actually goes to defeating the virus is less than 9%.”
The bill passed by a vote of 219–212 about 2 a.m., with both Republicans and two Democrats voting against it.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who shared McCarthy’s opinion that the bill is padded with non-pandemic spending priorities when the bill was headed to the Senate for a vote on March 4, said the bill is padded with non-pandemic spending priorities.
“I’m not going to be hoodwinked, and we shouldn’t be tricked into voting for something that isn’t what it claims to be, and that people will regret until this thing passes and they see what’s in it,” Rubio said on Fox News on March 3.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), speaking on the floor of the upper chamber on March 3, denied Republican arguments that the package is a “left wish list.”
“This is a wish list for Americans,” Schumer said.
On March 3, Biden addressed the Democratic caucus in the House of Representatives. “Each and every provision of the bill you passed addresses a real and pressing need among the American people. Each piece is not only defensible, but also urgent and well-received by the public. It’s sound strategy as well as sound politics.”
Psaki was also questioned about the $350 billion in state and local government aid in the bill, despite the fact that a number of economists and think tanks have suggested that anything between $100 million and $225 million is more fitting.
Psaki responded by citing the 1.3 million state and local government jobs that have been lost since the outbreak began.