CORONAVIIRUS STIMULUS CHECKS

Third stimulus check: Biden asks for its rapid approval

Three weeks into his presidency Biden wants Congress to pass a new round of stimulus checks posthaste to boost sluggish economy after poor jobs report.

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Third stimulus check: Biden asks for its rapid approval
SAUL LOEB AFP

Washington has been a flurry of activity since Biden came back to town. Less than a month in office, he has signed a laundry list of executive orders and actions. He has also pushed hard to get his $1.9 trillion covid-19 relief plan passed through Congress.

The White House and Democrats have been meeting to fill in the details of the framework set out in Biden’s American Rescue Plan (ARP). On Monday the House Ways and Means Committee presented their proposal based on the ARP's architecture after meeting with Biden the previous Friday. The Ways and Means proposal represents roughly half of the total bill that will hit Biden’s desk once it gets through both chambers.

The opening proposal contains spending for health care, expanded tax credits and extended unemployment benefits. In addition to a new round of stimulus checks for $1,400 to top up the $600 checks sent out at the beginning of the year.

A fast-approaching deadline to pass covid-19 relief

The primary drive behind the urgency is the impeding deadline for extending unemployment benefits and other pandemic-related measures that are set to expire in mid-March. Lawmakers and the President want to avoid going over the cliff again as happened in December when then-President Trump delayed signing a government-wide funding bill that also contained a new round of covid-19 relief.

That $900 billion add-on legislation extended some of the programs that were originally in the CARES Act. The funding was seen as too little too late with economists pointing out that more relief was needed as far back as August. However something had to be done as the economy was beginning to lag so it was described as a down payment on a future relief package once Biden was in office.

US economy needs more covid-19 stimulus “We don’t have a second to waste”

On Friday, flanked by Janet Yellen and Vice President Kamala Harris, Biden spoke on the economy after meeting with Democratic leaders from the house. That morning the January jobs report came out which painted a less than rosy outlook for the US economy. The labor market had only added 49,000 jobs, with 10 million still unemployed, 5 million of which have been for over 6 months.

“I believe the American people are looking right now to their government for help to do our job, to not let them down. So I’m going to act and I’m going to act fast,” Biden said. He went on to say “I’m going to help the American people who are hurting now. That’s why I’m so grateful to the House and the Senate for moving so fast on the American Rescue Plan.”

Biden reaffirmed his commitment to sending out $1,400 stimulus checks as part of the coronavirus relief bill. However he has said he is willing to be flexible on capping eligibility “we need to target that money so folks making $300,000 don’t get any windfall,” Biden said.

Congress fast-tracking covid-19 relief

With control of both chambers of Congress, but with slim margins, Democrats have their path forward a little bit smoother. That isn’t a guarantee that they can pass the covid-19 relief without having to make some concessions, but those will be to their own members generally speaking. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has expressed confidence that she will get the bill through the House in the next two weeks.

The Democrats are using budget reconciliation whereby they can pass the bill in the Senate with a simple majority and avoid a GOP filibuster. With the Senate evenly split 50-50, the Democrats will have to keep their entire caucus in lock step on the bill. In the event the vote comes down to a tie Vice President Kamala Harris will cast the winning vote.

The current proposal has the income eligibility cap for the $1400 direct payments remaining the same. But the situation is fluid and the biggest obstacle will be in the Senate. West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, a more conservative Democrat would like to see the direct payments targeted to keep them from going to upper income earners.

On the other end is Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats and is the Chair of the Senate Budget Committee. He fears that lowering the ceiling will see middle class Americans left out of the payments. Sanders will have a lot of power over what any spending bill looks like that will eventually be voted on in the Senate.

Third stimulus check: live updates

You can get the latest updates on the proposed third stimulus check, and other mooted aid measures such as the expanded child tax credit, by following our dedicated live blog.