Progressives grumble but won't sink relief bill over fewer stimulus checks

Liberal House Democrats are grumbling over the Senate's move to reduce eligibility for stimulus checks in a COVID-19 relief package, but say they won't block the legislation when it returns to the lower chamber for a vote.

"What we did over here was something that I wish the Senate would just accept. But they have their own realities that they have to deal with," said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), the chairman of the House Rules Committee. "It's not what I would have preferred, but we have to get this package done."

House Democrats last week passed a massive $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill that included a new round of stimulus checks, providing $1,400 for individuals earning up to $75,000 annually and couples earning up to $150,000. The cash stipend would phase out, under the House bill, at income levels of $100,000 for individuals and $200,000 for couples.

But moderate Democrats in the Senate had balked at those figures, wary that the taxpayer-funded stimulus checks — bankrolled by deficit spending — were going to high-earning households that didn't need the extra help. In talks with Democratic leaders, the moderates reduced the eligibility at the upper end, phasing out the checks at $80,000 for individuals and $160,000 for couples.

Estimates by right- and left-leaning think tanks said the changes will result in millions of households not receiving any stimulus funds.

Liberals are furious at the change, but said it's more important to pass the massive relief package quickly than to bog down the debate over a single provision. The package is a top priority of President BidenJoe BidenBiden authorizes up to 0M for Afghan refugees Poll: 73 percent of Democratic voters would consider voting for Biden in the 2024 primary Biden flexes presidential muscle on campaign trail with Virginia's McAuliffe MORE, who wants to move quickly to other agenda items.

"I don't like it, many others don't like it. But we knew that going in, that the president's relief plan was not going to get 100 percent of what we want," said Rep. Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersBipartisan bill will help level the playing field for small businesses Republicans hammer HUD chief over sluggish rental aid Key GOP lawmaker backs Powell for another term as Fed chief MORE (D-Calif.), who heads the Financial Services Committee. "We knew that there probably was going to be a little give and take somewhere. And that may be it. And if so, we've got to live with it."

Some liberals even welcomed the change, saying it will help Democrats politically by eliminating a key attack line from Republicans: namely, that the package was not targeted at the lower-income households most in need of the help. Democrats also noted that the Senate changes appear not to include a reduction in unemployment benefits, from $400 to $300 per week, as Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinWhy Biden's Interior Department isn't shutting down oil and gas Overnight Energy: Senate panel advances controversial public lands nominee | Nevada Democrat introduces bill requiring feds to develop fire management plan | NJ requiring public water systems to replace lead pipes in 10 years Transit funding, broadband holding up infrastructure deal MORE (D-W.Va.) had sought.

"Easy trade, I think," said Rep. John YarmuthJohn Allen YarmuthDemocrats look to flip script on GOP 'defund the police' attacks Democrats hit crunch time in Biden spending fight Republican immigration proposal falls flat MORE (D-Ky.), chairman of the Budget Committee.

Still, there was a lingering resentment among many of the House liberals, who wondered why Manchin was demanding reduced benefits, since the Republican governor of his own state has urged Congress to "go big" on another stimulus bill.

"At some point, I think people are getting big heads over there — the one or two people that can hold things up — and because of it they'll negotiate anything stupid just to say they negotiated," said Rep. Mark PocanMark William PocanOvernight Defense: 6B Pentagon spending bill advances | Navy secretary nominee glides through hearing | Obstacles mount in Capitol security funding fight House panel advances 6B Pentagon bill on party-line vote Democratic tensions simmer in House between left, center MORE (D-Wis.), former head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. "I just hope they don't screw too many things up."
Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiYellen to Congress: Raise the debt ceiling or risk 'irreparable harm' Freedom Caucus presses McCarthy to force vote to oust Pelosi The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Tokyo Olympics kick off with 2020-style opening ceremony MORE (D-Calif.), for her part, declined to comment on the changes to the stimulus eligibility. But she, too, suggested it was not a deal-breaker for House Democrats when the chamber votes on the measure again, likely next week.

"We're interested in seeing the total package when it comes out," she said, "but so far so good."