- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 3, 2021

President Biden bowed to pressure from moderate Democrats on Wednesday and agreed to tighten the eligibility for the $1,400 stimulus checks handed out as part of a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package.

Mr. Biden hoped to deliver a bipartisan “American Rescue Plan,” but the negotiations boiled down to settling differences among congressional Democrats while Republican opposition solidified over concerns that the spending was excessive and scattershot.

Mr. Biden and Democrats on Capitol Hill also agreed to keep $400-per-week enhanced unemployment benefits in the deal.

Democratic leaders made the changes to persuade the party’s holdouts to support the bill, which includes $1,400 checks for individuals with annual incomes up to $75,000 and for families earning up to $150,000.

Those payments now are set to be phased out at $80,000 for individuals and $160,000 for joint filers, rather than $100,000 for individuals and $200,000 for joint filers proposed in the original draft.

The change won over Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, the most conservative Democrat in the chamber, who wanted the checks to be more targeted and questioned the enhanced unemployment benefits in the deal.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed the change and said Mr. Biden is “pleased with the progress being made on the rescue plan.”

“He is comfortable and knows there will be tweaks on the margin,” Ms. Psaki said at the White House press briefing Wednesday.

“What his firm viewpoint is, is that it needs to meet the scope of the challenge, it needs to be the size he’s proposed, it needs to have the core components to have the impact on the American people,” she said.

The disbursement of checks to Americans is an element of the sprawling proposal, which includes $350 billion for state and local aid, $130 billion for schools, and $160 billion for vaccines and testing.

Republicans signaled Wednesday that they plan to make Democrats as uncomfortable as possible once their reworked bill hits the Senate floor.

Sen. Ron Johnson, Wisconsin Republican, said he “will lead the effort to resist” and will force the 600- to 700-page bill to be read aloud in the Senate.

“I’m going to make them read that thing — probably take about 10 hours,” Mr. Johnson said in a radio interview.

Senate Republicans then plan to offer a series of amendments in a process known as a “vote-a-rama,” when any senator can offer any amendment to the bill.

The process, which could start Thursday, will allow Republican lawmakers to shine a light on what they see as the more ridiculous aspects of the plan and force swing-state Democrats to pick sides in those debates.

“We’re really going to continue to hammer on all the nonsense that’s non-COVID-related that has been packed into this Democratic wish list,” Sen. Joni Ernst, Iowa Republican, told reporters on Capitol Hill.

Republicans notched a victory Wednesday after the Senate parliamentarian rejected House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s attempt to add $140 million to a massive COVID-19 relief package for a subway tunnel near her California district.

The parliamentarian also declared last week that a provision to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour could not be included in the COVID-19 relief bill.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said it is clear Republicans are not interested in finding common ground with Democrats on the proposal.

“Regrettably, it seems that too many of our Republican colleagues are resorting to the same, predictable objections they raise about nearly every proposal supported by a Democrat,” Mr. Schumer said on the Senate floor. “It almost doesn’t matter what’s in the bill. Everything my colleagues oppose is ‘a liberal wish list.’ That’s what many of them call it.

“Well, let me tell you, this bill is not a liberal wish list,” he said. “This is an American wish list.”

Mr. Biden, meanwhile, thanked House Democrats for passing the bill last week and urged them to stick behind the proposal.

“This is a case where every single piece of the bill you passed addresses a genuine desperate need of the American people,” Mr. Biden told House Democrats in a virtual event. “Each piece isn’t just defensible; it is urgent and overwhelmingly supported by the people.”

Mr. Biden cited polls showing 60% of Republicans support the plan.

“It’s good policy, and it’s good politics,” he said.

The president’s concession on the stimulus checks appeared to ease resistance to the enhanced unemployment benefits, which now call for boosting payments $400 per week from mid-March through September.

Mr. Manchin, who had voiced concerns, sounded optimistic about the changes.

“I’m very pleased with the discussions and dialogues and some changes that have been agreed upon,” he told reporters. “I want to make sure I see the final product.”

Senate Republicans slammed the bill as a “blue-state bailout.” They said Democrats are rewarding poorly run states and wasting taxpayer money on a liberal wish list of items unrelated to COVID-19.

Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican, said Congress has already sent more than $500 billion to state and local governments for coronavirus relief.

“Now we are being told they need another $350 billion. Really?” Mr. Toomey said. “This is going to do more harm than good. The states that have long-term fiscal imbalances have no incentives to fix them.

“This has nothing to do with COVID. This has nothing to do with the economy,” Mr. Toomey said. “This has everything to do with just throwing a whole big pile of money at fiscally irresponsible states.”

⦁ Dave Boyer contributed to this report.

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