Senate Democrats are struggling to keep all 50 on board for Biden's American Rescue Plan, while Senate Republicans are doing everything they can to delay the bill as long as possible in hopes that it falls apart and that they can blame Democrats for the suffering.
President Biden has agreed to narrow eligibility for a new round of $1,400 stimulus payments in his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill, a concession to moderate Senate Democrats as party leaders moved Wednesday to lock down support and finalize the sweeping legislation.
Under the new structure, the checks would phase out faster for those at higher income levels, compared to the way the direct payments were structured in Biden’s initial proposal and the version of the bill passed by the House on Saturday.
The change came as the Senate prepared to take an initial procedural vote to move forward on the bill as early as Wednesday evening. Biden and Senate Democratic leaders were scrambling to keep their caucus united since they cannot lose a single Democrat in the 50-50 Senate if Republicans unite against the legislation.
In addition to the stimulus checks, the sweeping economic package would also extend unemployment benefits through August, as well as set aside $350 billion for state and local aide; $130 billion for schools; $160 billion for vaccinations, testing and other health care system support; an enhanced child tax credit and other provisions including rental aid and food assistance.
At least one Senate Republican -- Lisa Murkowksi (R-Alaska) -- appeared open to considering a vote in favor of the legislation, telling reporters, “My state needs relief.” Elsewhere, though, GOP opposition was hardening, as Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) announced plans to force Senate officials to read the entire 600-page-plus bill aloud before debate could even begin -- a process he predicted would take around 10 hours.
“I don’t want to sound like a leftist, but I’m gonna resist,” Johnson told a talk radio host in Wisconsin.
Under the plan for stimulus checks passed by the House, individuals earning up to $75,000 per year and couples making up to $150,000 per year would qualify for the full $1,400 payment. The size of the payments would then begin to scale down before zeroing out for individuals making $100,000 per year and couples making $200,000.
Under the changes agreed to by Biden and Senate Democratic leadership, individuals earning $75,000 per year and couples earning $150,000 would still receive the full $1,400-per-person benefit. However, the benefit would disappear for individuals earning more than $80,000 annually and couples earning more than $160,000.
That means singles making between $80,000 and $100,000 and couples earning between $160,000 and $200,000 would be newly excluded from seeing any benefit under the revised structure Biden agreed to.
There's no real good reason to limit who gets checks even further, but moderate Blue Dogs like Joe Manchin and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire are insisting that the limits be changed and the money that would have gone to upper middle class folks be given to hospitals and schools for vaccination help instead.
The good news is that Republicans like Lisa Murkowski may sign on to the bill, yay! The bad news is nobody should really give a single damn about what anyone rancid enough to remain in the Trump white supremacist party has to say.
So, we'll see. Personally I want to see someone call Manchin's bluff and make him personally responsible for sinking this bill, but the stakes are too high. People are going to hurt badly without this money. We can't afford gamesmanship here.
But Senators are going to Senate.