Bipartisan group of senators calls for more targeted relief checks

A bipartisan group of senators is signaling that they want the next round of coronavirus relief checks to Americans to be more targeted.

The group is offering an amendment to the budget resolution part of the Senate’s hours-long vote-a-rama on Thursday. Though it’s nonbinding, the fact that it has support of 16 senators from both parties signals that the structure of the checks is an area of likely negotiation as Democrats craft the coronavirus relief package.

The amendment was offered by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). And it has the support of Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), Maggie Hassan (N.H.), Jon Tester (Mont.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), John Hickenlooper (Colo.), Mark Warner (Va.), Mark Kelly (Ariz.) and Independent Sen. Angus King (Maine), who caucuses with Democrats.

GOP Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Rob Portman (Ohio), Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), Thom Tillis (N.C.), Bill Cassidy (La.), Mike Rounds (S.D.) and Mitt Romney (Utah) are also supporting the amendment.

The measure doesn’t specify how the next round of checks to be better targeted.

But many of the same senators are in the GOP group of 10 that met with Biden on Monday night to discuss their $618 billion coronavirus proposal. They sent Biden a letter on Thursday where they highlighted concerns about the phase-out structure of the checks.

“Our goal is to target those direct payments to families with the greatest needs. As we expressed at our meeting, we do not believe that families making up to $300,000 per year need these direct payments, which they would have received under the CASH Act passed by the House of Representatives last December and which is currently included in your proposal,” the Republicans wrote.

“We want to help struggling lower- and middle-income families as well as boost the economy; better targeting the direct payments would accomplish both goals,” they added.

GOP Sens. Jerry Moran (Kansas) and Todd Young (Ind.) are part of the group that met with Biden, but are not formal co-sponsors of the amendment.

Tester told reporters that they left the measure open-ended to try to generate support for the idea more broadly.

“I guess that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It depends who you want to talk to. But I think the point of the amendment is it’s negotiable so we can try to get some folks on board,” Tester said.

Biden’s proposal would offer a $1,400 direct payment. It doesn’t specify when the payments would start to be phased down, but previous rounds of direct stimulus checks have started to phase out at an income level of $75,000 for individuals.

Senators expressed bipartisan concern late last year at a House proposal that would change the amount of the stimulus check from $600, the amount of the latest direct assistance payment, to $1,400 but without changing the phase-out structure of the checks. That would have resulted in higher earners who had not been eligible for a check under the $600-proposal to get some payment under the $1,400 proposal.

Senators have been discussing making changes to the phase-out structure of the next round of stimulus checks amid broader concern that high-income earners would be eligible for payments unless Congress makes changes.

“I happen to agree that the Mnuchin formula on the cash payments should be revisited. The outcome of that Mnuchin formula was indefensible. It came through families in higher income categories. That wasn’t the reason for the cash payments, to give already wealthy people some more money to invest in stocks. And so yes, I would be open to that,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told reporters late last week, referring to former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

But the amendment is likely to get some pushback.

Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.), who made the stimulus checks a key message in his recent Senate campaign, said he wouldn’t support the Manchin-Collins amendment.

“I’m advocating that we go big and that we deliver as much direct relief to the people as we can,” he told reporters.

Members of the bipartisan group are also proposing an amendment signaling they don’t want the federal unemployment benefit to be above $300 per week. Biden’s plan puts the federal unemployment benefit at $400 per week.

Warner, Hickenlooper and King, who co-sponsored the amendment on more-targeted checks, did not sign onto the one on the unemployment benefit. Young, who did not sign onto the checks amendment, did sign onto the unemployment proposal.

Both amendments are nonbinding, meaning they don’t have the force of law even if they are added to the budget resolution currently being debated.

Tags Angus King Bill Cassidy Coronavirus coronavirus aid coronavirus relief coronavirus stimulus Dick Durbin Jeanne Shaheen Jerry Moran Joe Manchin John Hickenlooper Jon Ossoff Jon Tester Maggie Hassan Mark Kelly Mark Warner Mike Rounds Mitt Romney Rob Portman Shelley Moore Capito Steven Mnuchin Susan Collins Thom Tillis Todd Young

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