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Progressives won't oppose bill over limits on stimulus checks

Senate Democrats’ move to limit the eligibility for the latest round of stimulus checks to people making $80,000 or less is frustrating progressives, who say it makes little sense for President BidenJoe BidenObama, Clinton reflect on Mondale's legacy Biden, Harris commend Mondale in paving the way for female VP Mondale in last message to staff: 'Joe in the White House certainly helps' MORE to distribute payments to fewer people than what was done under former President TrumpDonald TrumpHouse votes to condemn Chinese government over Hong Kong Former Vice President Walter Mondale dies at age 93 White House readies for Chauvin verdict MORE.

Biden agreed to the change this week as a concession to centrist senators, whose votes he needs to move the legislation through the narrowly divided 50-50 Senate. 

The decision is unlikely to cut into the Democratic vote for the measure, as so far no progressives are threatening to oppose the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package over the change. But it has left a bitter taste for many.

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Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOvernight Energy: Treasury creates hub to fight climate change through finance | Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez introduce 'Green New Deal for Public Housing' | White House defends 'aspirational' goal of 62,500 refugees Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez introduce 'Green New Deal for Public Housing' MORE (D-N.Y.) called it an “own-goal” that will hurt Democrats.

“Conservative Dems have fought so the Biden admin sends fewer & less generous relief checks than the Trump admin did,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter. “It’s a move that makes little-to-no political or economic sense, and targets an element of relief that is most tangibly felt by everyday people. An own-goal.”

The package will deliver $1,400 checks to qualifying households.

Individuals making $75,000 or less will be eligible for the full stimulus check, which is higher than the $600 and $1,200 direct payments in the two previous pandemic relief measures that included them.

The changes would cut off eligibility at $80,000 for individuals and $160,000 for couples. Previously, checks gradually phased out for individuals making up to $100,000 and couples earning up to $200,000.

As a result, individuals with incomes between $80,000 and $100,000 — or couples making double that — who received partial relief checks in the previous rounds wouldn’t get a cent this time. 

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Democrats opposed to the eligibility changes warned that people with incomes of $80,000 to $100,000 are still considered middle-class in high-cost urban areas, especially if they have dependent children.

“This is madness. People are struggling and we’re fighting over how many people we want to EXCLUDE from the relief checks,” Rep. Bonnie Watson ColemanBonnie Watson ColemanBiden takes victory lap after Senate passes coronavirus relief package Senate approves sweeping coronavirus measure in partisan vote Progressives won't oppose bill over limits on stimulus checks MORE (D-N.J.) wrote in a series of tweets on Thursday. 

“What about the family w/ several kids who made 160k but lost their job in 2020? Or the person who made 80k pre-pandemic but lives in a high cost-of-living state like NJ or NY? We’re going to cut them out?” Watson Coleman asked.

Estimates vary on exactly how many fewer people would receive stimulus checks, but experts across the spectrum predicted the changes would impact at least several million households.

The left-leaning Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy estimated that 17 million fewer people — adults and children — would benefit under the Senate proposal compared to the House-passed bill, while the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute calculated that about 8.7 million fewer households would be eligible. The Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center also estimated that about 8 million fewer households would receive payments.

The Internal Revenue Service reported issuing more than 160 million direct payments in the first round and close to 150 million in the second.  

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenGOP senator: Raising corporate taxes is a 'non-starter' Democrats get good news from IRS IRS chief warns of unpaid taxes hitting trillion MORE (D-Ore.) acknowledged that he “would have preferred the House bill” that kept the income threshold for stimulus checks the same as the previous rounds.

But Wyden noted the $80,000 limit for individuals is higher than the $50,000 some centrists had been pushing out of concerns that some people with higher incomes would be getting checks even if they didn’t necessarily need them. 

“So, we've had a lot of battles,” Wyden told reporters. 

Sen. Angus KingAngus KingManchin throws support behind union-backed PRO Act The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - All US adults now eligible for COVID vaccines Biden to hold second meeting with bipartisan lawmakers on infrastructure MORE (Maine), an independent who caucuses with Democrats, said that he “wanted to be sure that the individual payments were targeted to those most in need.”

“I think it’s getting close to where I’m comfortable,” King said Thursday of the overall package. 

Some centrists want to further limit other benefits in the sprawling COVID-19 relief package, like the $400 weekly unemployment insurance supplement. But that provision is expected to remain intact despite the centrists’ push. 

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Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinOn The Money: Treasury creates hub to fight climate change | Manchin throws support behind union-backed PRO Act | Consumer bureau rolls out rule to bolster CDC eviction ban Miners union to back Biden on green energy if it retains jobs Manchin throws support behind union-backed PRO Act MORE (D-W.Va.) said that he would prefer keeping the unemployment insurance boost at the current $300 per week, but acknowledged “a lot of my conference is $400, so there’s a difference there.” 

“I want to continue the $300. It’s been there. I want to make sure people know they can rely on that and count on that,” Manchin said. 

Top House Democrats are signaling that the change in eligibility for the stimulus checks wouldn’t be a deal-breaker once the Senate sends the relief package back to the lower chamber. 

“I think it makes a lot of sense. I'm fine with it. I thought going up to $200,000 was bad optics,” said House Budget Committee Chairman John YarmuthJohn Allen YarmuthDemocrats see political winner in tax fight McConnell knocks Kentucky Democrat over support for nixing filibuster Democrats vow to go 'bold' — with or without GOP MORE (D-Ky.).

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard NealRichard Edmund NealTrump lawyers argue NY tax return law no longer applies to him Democrats offer competing tax ideas on Biden infrastructure Top Democrat calling for expansion of child care support MORE (D-Mass.), meanwhile, said that he was “open to changes in the phase out” for the direct checks and stressed that the unemployment insurance provision should remain unchanged.

“If you had to pick out or single out one item that more than anything else in the CARES Act saved the American economy, it was the unemployment insurance. So the fact that they have not touched the unemployment insurance with a supplement, I think is a good thing,” Neal said.

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And despite the progressives’ grumbling, Congressional Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalBiden angers Democrats by keeping Trump-era refugee cap Omar: 'Shameful' Biden reneging on refugee promise Biden rebuffs Democrats, keeps refugee admissions at 15,000 MORE (D-Wash.) held off on warning that she and her allies would vote against the relief package with the changes. 

“I don't like that this is being narrowed,” Jayapal said. “We're looking to see what the whole package looks like, but all of us understand the urgency of getting this through.” 

There isn’t much time for any additional ping-ponging of changes between the chambers — or much room for protests. House Democrats can only afford up to four defections if all Republicans oppose a bill. 

And Democrats are up against the deadline of March 14, when the current unemployment insurance benefits expire. 

The Senate is expected to amend the House-passed legislation later this week or over the weekend. Once that happens, the House plans to take up the Senate changes next week and clear it to the president.

“This is Congress working its will,” Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiWhite House readies for Chauvin verdict House GOP's McClain responds to Pelosi calling her 'that woman' GOP struggles to rein in nativism MORE (D-Calif.) said Thursday, predicting they will send the relief package to Biden’s desk “in a matter of several days.” 

Alexander Bolton contributed.