White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Sunday said that President Joe Biden is still open to lowering the income threshold for the $1,400 stimulus checks in his $1.9 trillion relief package. She also indicated that the direct payments could be delayed by weeks as Democrats figure out the best path forward for the $15 minimum wage measure.
Biden is willing to further target the checks to “ensure they hit the Americans who need that help the most,” Psaki said on Fox News Sunday, adding that the president will not negotiate the size of the direct payments.
The House of Representatives passed the sprawling relief legislation on Friday evening, advancing it to the Senate, where Republicans are expected to offer several amendments to the bill. Any successful amendments will then be sent back to the House for a final vote.
On Tuesday, Senator Susan Collins said she has been in talks with Democrats about lowering the income threshold for the direct payments as an amendment. Democratic Senator Dick Durbin on Sunday confirmed the ongoing amendment talks, saying “that’s one of the topics the bipartisan group of senators has raised from the start,” according to the Hill.
Under the current bill, individuals earning under $75,000 a year would receive $1,400 and married couples earning less than $150,000 would receive $2,800. Those who earn above the threshold would receive lesser payments and individuals who earn over $100,000 would be phased out completely. The eligibility requirements are in line with the first two rounds of checks that were sent out under former President Donald Trump.
Earlier this month, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi indicated that Democrats were hoping that the bill would pass Congress by the end of February. Senate Democrats had paved the way to use the budget process called reconciliation to push through the package without GOP support, but it would require every Democrat in the upper chamber to vote for the measure as all 50 Republican senators are expected to vote against it.
Moderate Democratic Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have already said that they oppose raising the minimum wage to $15.
This week, Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough, a nonpartisan interpreter of chamber rules, ruled that the $15 minimum wage did not meet the requirements of reconciliation. After her decision, Democrats have spent the weekend exploring other avenues to pass the wage hike.
On Fox News Sunday, Psaki reaffirmed Biden’s commitment to the $15 minimum wage and insisted that he will figure out a path forward, while also warning that it could take “days or even several weeks.”
“The president supports exactly what Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont does, that is increasing the minimum wage for the American people who are trying to make ends meet. And he thinks that long overdue,” she added.
Progressive House Democrats have warned that they could withhold their vote for the legislation if the upper chamber removes the wage hike. “I don’t think we can go back to voters and say, ‘Look, I know Republicans, Democrats, independents support this; we promised it, but because of an unelected parliamentarian who gave us a ruling, we couldn’t do it,'” Pramila Jayapal of Washington, who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told reporters on Friday.
Newsweek reached out to the White House for comment.