Biden commits to $1,400 checks, but open to eligibility limits

President Biden said during a call with House Democrats on Wednesday that he is committed to boosting stimulus checks to $2,000 by giving most Americans another $1,400 in direct payments in a new round of coronavirus relief.

However, Biden did crack the door open to tightening income restrictions on which Americans are eligible to receive the checks. Under the relief package passed by Congress late last year, individuals making less than $75,000 and couples making less than $150,000 received the full $600 payment.

“We can’t walk away from an additional $1,400 in direct checks that we proposed because the people need them,” Biden told Democrats, according to a source on the call.

“We can better target them,” he said, “but I’m not going to start my administration by breaking a promise to the American people.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki clarified later Wednesday that Biden is open to further limiting the income level of who receives a stimulus check, not the total amount of the check.

“Further targeting means not the size of the check, it means the income level of people who receive the check and that’s something that has been under discussion. There hasn’t been a conclusion but certainly he’s open to having that discussion,” Psaki told reporters at an afternoon briefing.  

Biden took no questions during the five-minute call, but urged House Democrats to “go big, not small” on a new COVID-19 relief package — the first major legislative push of his presidency.

Biden also called on Democrats to stick together as they sell his nearly $2 trillion stimulus plan to the American people, and he made clear that shifting toward the $618 billion plan offered by 10 GOP senators was “not in the cards.”

“I’ll have your back. I ask that you have mine,” Biden said.

The president was expected to huddle with Senate Democrats at the White House later Wednesday to build support for his $1.9 trillion health and economic relief package, dubbed the American Rescue Plan.

It addition to the bigger stimulus checks, Biden’s proposal includes $400 billion for more vaccines, testing and other measures to combat the coronavirus pandemic and to help reopen schools; $350 billion for cities, states and tribal governments; billions more for small businesses, rental assistance and increasing unemployment insurance; and raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

House and Senate Democrats are expected to pass a budget resolution this week that would give them the ability later this month to pass a massive COVID-19 package through the Senate with just a simple majority. That will be crucial given the Senate’s 50-50 split.

While Biden’s stimulus plan is expected to cruise through the House, it is already facing some hurdles in the Senate, where Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is opposing the minimum wage hike.

“If the package includes a minimum wage, I suspect Manchin is a hard no. I also expect more targeted direct checks,” said one moderate House Democrat. “Other than that, I don’t see anything stopping the package from moving through [the Congress] rather seamlessly.”

Morgan Chalfant contributed. Updated at 3:00 p.m.