President Joe Biden's proposed plan for new $1,400 stimulus checks to supplement the $600 payments sent out after Christmas is hitting a wall with moderate senators of both parties, and the path to more relief could be longer than expected.
Biden announced a $1.9 trillion stimulus package on Jan. 14, ahead of his inauguration. The proposal would bring the total for recent direct payments up to $2,000 for Americans earning less than $75,000.
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Unlike either of the previous two stimulus checks, Biden's new checks would cover dependent children up to age 23 and senior parents dependent upon adult children.
However, two moderate Republican lawmakers who have generally favored stimulus relief are now hesitant to send out more money so quickly. Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said on Wednesday (Jan. 20) that this new spending package would require more time to consider.
"We just passed a program with over $900 billion in it," Romney said. "I'm not looking for a new program in the immediate future."
At least one prominent Democrat, too, is skeptical. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), who with Murkowski and Romney helped lead the bipartisan group that put together the previous stimulus package, is calling for more targeted relief.
"Sending checks to people who basically already have a check, and who aren't going to spend it, who are putting it in their savings account right now, that's not who we are," Manchin said. "We have done an awful lot of that. It's time now to target where that money goes."
Many economists have said that sending stimulus money to all eligible taxpayers, including those who haven't lost their jobs or housing during the pandemic, is less effective than sending money to those who really need it.
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), who is now the Senate minority leader, also opposes the $1,400 checks.
"It's hardly clear that the federal government's top priority should be sending thousands of dollars to, for example, a childless couple making well into six figures who have been comfortably teleworking all year," McConnell said.
Joint filers who made up to $150,000 per year in their most recent tax filings stand to receive $4,000 in stimulus checks under Biden's plan.
A path to a third direct payment?
Some lawmakers hope that Biden's proposal gets enough bipartisan support to garner the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate, though it now seems unlikely that the $1.9 trillion bill would get the necessary 10 Republicans on board.
Democrats are weighing several options to move stimulus relief forward. One is to split the proposal into smaller bills that would focus on funding for vaccine distribution and direct payments, measures that are more likely to pass both chambers of Congress than other parts of Biden's proposed bill.
The other is to use a process called budget reconciliation, which would require only a simple majority to pass a House-approved budget bill in the Senate and could potentially fast-track pandemic relief without bipartisan support.
However, the process is tricky: Not all the measures in Biden's proposal would qualify for reconciliation, meant to be only for budgetary matters, and only a limited number of bills are allowed to go through reconciliation each year.
Even if Democrats choose the reconciliation route, they'd likely need to have every member of the party on board (plus Vice President Kamala Harris) to get the necessary 51 votes in the Senate. Just one defector or absence could sink the bill.