President Joe Biden's proposal to send $1,400 stimulus checks to many Americans is facing opposition from moderate lawmakers, but Democrats may now prioritize fast-tracking the bill and give up trying to gain broad bipartisan support.
On a call with the White House on Sunday (Jan. 24), a bipartisan group of 16 senators pushed back against the total cost of the $1.9 trillion stimulus plan, saying it would send money to Americans who don't need it. The $1,400 relief checks included in the bill would be a supplement to the $600 stimulus payments sent out after Christmas.
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While the moderate lawmakers on Sunday's call support some provisions in the bill, they are asking for a more targeted plan to send stimulus check 3 to lower-income individuals and families.
"This isn't Monopoly money," said Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who joined the conference call along with Sens. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) and Susan Collins (R-Maine).
The Biden administration so far has been working toward a bipartisan package that would pass the Senate with a filibuster-proof 60 votes. However, given the uncertainty from moderate lawmakers of both parties, the current proposal seems unlikely to gain that much support. The Senate is split 50-50 between the parties.
A fast-track option
If Biden's stimulus plan does not win over at least 10 of Republican moderates, it's not necessarily dead. Democrats can use a budget process called reconciliation to pass the bill with just 50 votes and Vice-President Kamala Harris as the tie-breaker.
This would require every Democrat plus both left-leaning independents — including Sen. King — to be on board. The other independent, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), has already said he supports reconciliation in spite of his previous opposition to the Republicans' use of the process to pass tax cuts in 2017.
"You did it, we're gonna do it, but we're gonna do it to protect ordinary people, not just the rich and the powerful," Sanders said on CNN on Sunday.
If the Democrats drop any hope of bipartisanship and decide this week to push the bill through by themselves, the third stimulus checks would probably start arriving in mid-February.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki so far hasn't ruled out reconciliation. But while the process would move stimulus relief forward quickly, it could set a tone of bitter division in the Senate. That's something that Biden, who was a senator for 36 years, is eager to avoid as it would threaten the rest of his legislative agenda.
Some Republicans say they are waiting for the Biden administration to seek broader support for the stimulus bill.
"It's much more successful around here if you try to get the bipartisanship at the start so that it's a foundation of trust," said Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), another moderate, ahead of Sunday's call.