Senate

Democrats push Biden to include recurring payments in recovery package

A group of Democratic senators is urging President Biden to include recurring direct payments for some Americans in his forthcoming coronavirus recovery plan.

A letter spearheaded by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) calls for Biden's forthcoming Build Back Better proposal to fund recurring direct payments and automatic unemployment insurance extensions that are tied to economic conditions. That would be on top of the one-time payments of $1,400 per person that are included in the $1.9 trillion relief package the House passed last week.

The letter has attracted at least nine other signatories, including the chairs of the Senate's three major financial committees, and will be circulated on Capitol Hill on Tuesday to garner further support. The letter does not specify a dollar amount for the recurring payments. 

"We urge you to include recurring direct payments and automatic unemployment insurance extensions tied to economic conditions in your Build Back Better long-term economic plan," states the letter, text of which was obtained by The Hill. "This crisis is far from over, and families deserve certainty that they can put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads. Families should not be at the mercy of constantly-shifting legislative timelines and ad hoc solutions." 

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) along with Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) have all signed their names to the letter.

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee is also expected to launch an effort Tuesday allowing the public to sign on in support of the effort. 

The push comes days after Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package passed the House in a largely party-line vote, with two Democrats breaking to oppose the bill with Republicans. The Senate is taking up the legislation this week, after progressives were dealt a major blow when the chamber's parliamentarian ruled that a minimum wage hike to $15 could not be included in the package that Democrats are expected to pass using budget reconciliation. 

Biden's relief package includes funding for $1,400 direct payments to Americans who qualify based on their incomes. It also would extend federal unemployment benefits through the end of August and provide a $400 weekly boost to benefits from mid-March through the end of August.

Progressives in Congress have long been pushing for recurring direct payments, and Wyden's leadership on the new letter is significant because his committee has jurisdiction over tax policy. Wyden has long supported tying unemployment benefits to economic conditions.

A proposal that would make direct payments recurring would gain support from progressives but almost certainly run into opposition from not only Republicans but also more moderate Democrats, like Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.). Republicans and some centrist Democrats have said they want to target direct payments to lower-income households.

The letter circulated by Wyden argues that recurring payments and enhanced unemployment insurance are among the most effective forms of relief for the American public during the pandemic. It also notes the popularity of recurring direct payments among the American public and cites a recent letter signed by 156 economists calling for these "automatic stabilizers" until the economy recovers.   

"As you have said, now is the time for boldness. As you prepare your Build Back Better plan for long-term economic recovery, know that we are ready to work with you in support of recurring direct checks and extended unemployment insurance benefits to support Americans who are still struggling during the pandemic," the letter states. 

Biden has not yet issued details of his recovery package, which he initially planned to unveil in February, though it's expected to contain substantial funding for infrastructure. The White House says that he will detail his next package after the relief bill is passed.

"I don't expect that the president will be laying out the next stage of his agenda until after we get the American rescue plan passed," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday when asked about plans to address a joint session of Congress. "We certainly hope we will do that in the coming weeks." 

Biden has sought Republican lawmakers' support for his relief package - without success - and would likely do so with his rescue package. Without some Republicans supporting his next proposal, Democrats could use reconciliation again to pass it but that would require every Democrat in the Senate supporting the measure. 

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