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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 Biden, 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 Waters (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 Manchin (D-W.Va.) had sought.
"Easy trade, I think," said Rep. John Yarmuth (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 Pocan (D-Wis.), former head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. "I just hope they don't screw too many things up."
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (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."