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Senate signals broad support for more targeted coronavirus relief checks

The Senate signaled broad bipartisan support on Thursday for the next round of coronavirus stimulus checks to be more targeted.

The chamber voted 99-1 on an amendment from Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSenate Democrats nix 'Plan B' on minimum wage hike Senate mulls changes to .9 trillion coronavirus bill Brown vows Democrats will 'find a way' to raise minimum wage MORE (D-W.Va.) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate mulls changes to .9 trillion coronavirus bill Sasse rebuked by Nebraska Republican Party over impeachment vote Collins urges Biden to revisit order on US-Canada border limits MORE (R-Maine) related to "targeting" the checks and making sure that "upper-income taxpayers are not eligible."

The vote is nonbinding and the budget resolution to which senators attached the proposal doesn't get signed into law. But the margin signals overwhelming support in the Senate for tightening the phase-out structure of the next round of checks as Congress crafts the COVID-19 relief bill that Democrats want to pass by mid-March.

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"I don't think a single person on this floor would disagree to target the relief to our neighbors who are struggling to pay rent and put food on the table. This $1,400 will make a significant impact on their ability to get by. There are other families who have not missed a single paycheck as a result of this pandemic. It does not make sense to send a check to those individuals," Manchin said ahead of the vote.

Collins added that the "question before us is quite simple."

"Do we want stimulus checks to go to households with family incomes of $300,000 or do we want to target the assistance to struggling families who need the help and provide a boost for the economy?" she asked.

GOP Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulOvernight Health Care: 50 million coronavirus vaccines given | Pfizer news | Biden health nominees Rand Paul criticized for questioning of transgender health nominee Haley isolated after Trump fallout MORE (Ky.) was the only senator to vote against the amendment.

The measure doesn't specifically say how the checks should be further targeted, but the vote underscores that lawmakers are likely to make changes to currently offered plans.

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President 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-level to get some payment under the $1,400 payment.

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSenate Democrats nix 'Plan B' on minimum wage hike Senate mulls changes to .9 trillion coronavirus bill NFL's Justin Jackson praises Sanders for opposing Biden's USDA nominee MORE (I-Vt.), speaking from the Senate floor minutes before the vote, indicated that no one supported families with incomes of $300,000 per year getting a check. But he urged colleagues to support individuals who make up to $75,000 or couples who make up to $150,000 getting direct assistance.

"I do not oppose this amendment. I do not think anybody here wants to see people who make $300,000 get direct payments. Let's make certain that people who are making $75,000 per year or less do get their payments and couples making $150,000 or less do get their payments," he said.

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.

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"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 DurbinDick DurbinSenate mulls changes to .9 trillion coronavirus bill Partisan headwinds threaten Capitol riot commission Murkowski undecided on Tanden as nomination in limbo MORE (D-Ill.) told reporters late last week, referring to former Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinBiden brings back bipartisan meetings at the White House On The Money: Schumer urges Democrats to stick together on .9T bill | Collins rules out GOP support for Biden relief plan | Powell fights inflation fears Mnuchin expected to launch investment fund seeking backing from Persian Gulf region: report MORE.

Those changes wouldn't necessarily change the amount of the check, or the income caps for getting a full payment. Rather senators have homed in on changing the speed at which the payments phase down for individuals who make above $75,000 or couples who make above $150,000.

The amendment was co-sponsored by Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanSenate Democrats call on GAO to review child care access barriers for disabled parents, kids Biden signs supply chain order after 'positive' meeting with lawmakers Koch-backed group launches ads urging lawmakers to reject COVID-19 relief bill MORE (N.H.), Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterSenate mulls changes to .9 trillion coronavirus bill Democrats hesitant to raise taxes amid pandemic Jennifer Palmieri: 'Ever since I was aware of politics, I wanted to be in politics' MORE (Mont.), Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenSenators press Treasury to prioritize Tubman redesign Can Palestine matter again? Senate signals broad support for more targeted coronavirus relief checks MORE (N.H.), John HickenlooperJohn HickenlooperDemocrats hesitant to raise taxes amid pandemic The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump's second impeachment trial begins Sanders says Biden sees progressives as 'strong part of his coalition' MORE (Colo.), Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerSunday shows - Trump's reemergence, COVID-19 vaccines and variants dominate Warner: White House should 'keep open additional sanctions' against Saudi crown prince Sunday shows preview: 2024 hopefuls gather at CPAC; House passes coronavirus relief; vaccine effort continues MORE (Va.), Mark KellyMark KellyKoch-backed group launches ads urging lawmakers to reject COVID-19 relief bill Conservative groups seek to bolster opposition to Biden's HHS pick On The Trail: Trump threatens a Tea Party redux MORE (Ariz.) and Independent Sen. Angus KingAngus KingBiden CIA pick pledges to confront China if confirmed, speak 'truth to power' Top cops deflect blame over Capitol attack Koch-backed group launches ads urging lawmakers to reject COVID-19 relief bill MORE (Maine), who caucuses with Democrats, as well as GOP Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanSunday shows - Trump's reemergence, COVID-19 vaccines and variants dominate Portman on Trump's dominance of GOP: Republican Party's policies are 'even more popular' Sunday shows preview: 2024 hopefuls gather at CPAC; House passes coronavirus relief; vaccine effort continues MORE (Ohio), Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoPassage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is the first step to heal our democracy Biden's unity effort falters Capito asks White House to allow toxic chemicals rule to proceed MORE(W.Va.), Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisMcConnell backs Garland for attorney general GOP senators demand probe into Cuomo's handling of nursing home deaths CNN anchor confronts GOP chairman over senator's vote to convict Trump MORE (N.C.), Bill CassidyBill CassidyTrump rules out starting a new party: 'Fake news' Sunday shows - Trump's reemergence, COVID-19 vaccines and variants dominate Cassidy: Trump won't be GOP nominee in 2024 MORE (La.), Mike RoundsMike RoundsIndigenous groups post billboards urging senators to confirm Deb Haaland Powell pushes back on GOP inflation fears Overnight Health Care: US surpasses half a million COVID deaths | House panel advances Biden's .9T COVID-19 aid bill | Johnson & Johnson ready to provide doses for 20M Americans by end of March MORE (S.D.) and Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyEx-Trump aide Pierson planning run for Congress Five takeaways from CPAC 2021 Trump shows he holds stranglehold on GOP, media in CPAC barnburner MORE (Utah).

Many of those Republicans 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 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," they 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 MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranGraham: Trump will 'be helpful' to all Senate GOP incumbents The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden vs. Trump, part II Passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is the first step to heal our democracy MORE (Kansas) and Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungSenate mulls changes to .9 trillion coronavirus bill Graham: Trump will 'be helpful' to all Senate GOP incumbents Biden signs supply chain order after 'positive' meeting with lawmakers MORE (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 more 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.

Sen. Jon OssoffJon OssoffGeorgia's GOP-led Senate passes bill requiring ID for absentee voting Koch-backed group launches ads urging lawmakers to reject COVID-19 relief bill Perdue rules out 2022 Senate bid against Warnock MORE (D-Ga.), who made the stimulus checks a key message in his recent Senate campaign, said he ahead of the vote that he wouldn't support the Manchin-Collins amendment.

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

But he ended up voting for it.

The White House has signaled that while it's standing by $1,400 as the amount of the stimulus check that it's open to discussions about changing details of the payment structure.

“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,” White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiCuomo asks New York AG to appoint independent attorney to investigate sexual harassment claims Ocasio-Cortez: Detailed sexual harassment allegations against Cuomo 'painful to read' Sunday shows - Trump's reemergence, COVID-19 vaccines and variants dominate MORE told reporters at an afternoon briefing.

Members of the bipartisan group are also proposing an amendment signaling that 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.

That amendment hasn't yet gotten a vote as part of the Senate's hours-long vote-a-rama.