The U.S. House on Wednesday approved a budget resolution that would pave the way for President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill to pass by majority vote.
While the budget resolution would trigger a procedure known as reconciliation and allow congressional Democrats to pass the stimulus without Republican votes, Biden and Democrats who met with the president on Wednesday said they still wanted to get GOP buy-in.
“While he supports bipartisanship, he also understands there is a fierce urgency of getting this done,” U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez told NJ Advance Media after a 90-minute meeting with Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Senate Democratic committee chairs like himself. “Yes, we would love to have Republicans but not at the cost of doing something that is big and bold.”
One area of compromise could be scaling back the $1,400 stimulus payments. Under the current proposal, some families earning more than $400,000 could get a check.
“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,:” said White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki. “There hasn’t been a conclusion, but certainly he’s open to having that discussion.”
U.S. Sen. Chris Coons said the topic was broached during an hour-long meeting with fellow Delaware Democratic Sen. Tom Carper and Biden, who used to represent the state in the Senate.
“We did have a conversation about the direct payments and how those might be modified in a way to ensure they’re targeted but President Biden was clear with us and with our caucus that he’s not going to forget the middle class,” Coons said.
“He’s not going to walk back from a real commitment he made, not just in Georgia but nationally, to deliver targeted relief to those Americans most in need.”
Psaki said she expected changes to the bill before Biden signed it into law.
“The president, having served in the Senate for 36 years, fully recognizes that the bill he proposed, that he did a primetime address on two weeks ago, that may not look exactly like the bill that comes out,” she said Wednesday at her daily press briefing.
One possible compromise would be to provide the full $1,400 only to individuals making no more than $50,000 and married couples making no more than $100,000, the Washington Post reported. The current proposal set the thresholds at $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 for couples.
A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday found 78% of Americans supported the $1,400 stimulus payments, with only 18% in opposition. Republicans backed the direct payments, 64% to 32%.
“Struggling to pay the bills, American households need an infusion of cash and need it now,” Quinnipiac polling analyst Tim Malloy said. “So give it to them, is the resounding judgment of the public.”
The poll of 1,075 U.S. adults was conducted from Jan. 28-Feb. 1 and had a margin of error of +/- 3 percentage points.
Biden already rejected a proposal by 10 Senate Republicans to shave the package by more than two-thirds, to $618 billion.
Democrats still bear the scars from 2009, when their stimulus bill in response to the Great Recession was scaled back in order to attract Republican support. Biden was vice president at the time, and the limited spending resulted in a more tepid recovery.
“History teaches us that the failure to do more created more economic pain,” Menendez said.
The GOP package also stripped out Biden’s proposal for $350 billion federal aid to help state and local governments pay the salaries of health care workers, teachers and other public employees. Menendez called the money an “absolute necessity” and Coons called any effort to pass a bill without state and local aid a “nonstarter.”
The House vote, largely along party lines, was 218-212. The Senate plans to debate the bill beginning Thursday.
Congressional Republicans complained that the stimulus would increase the deficit, even though they used the same process in 2017 to pass a tax law that the Congressional Budget Office said would increase the deficit by the same $1.9 trillion as Biden’s proposal.
Rep. Jason Smith of Missouri, the top Republican on the House Budget Committee, used the debate to lash into Gov. Phil Murphy and New Jersey in response to Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-6th Dist., who said the Biden plan “delivers bold relief to the American people” and “deserves strong bipartisan support here in the House.”
Smith said New Jersey had received $9.5 billion in “taxpayer bailouts” snd would get another $9.5 billion under the stimulus plan.
“That very same government has enacted lockdown policies directly leading to the closure of more than 3,000 small businesses and that state, very sadly, actually has the highest per capita death rate of all states,” he said.
Since New Jersey was one of the hardest hit at the start of the pandemic, it is true that its coronavirus death rate remains the highest in the country. And it is true that about one-third of the state’s small businesses have closed.
“New Jersey is the densest state in the nation and was one of the earliest states to be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Murphy spokeswoman Alyana Alfaro said. “Since the pandemic began, Governor Murphy has taken decisive action to protect the lives of as many New Jerseyans as possible while also responsibly easing restrictions and ensure economic health for our state.”
In addition, New Jersey received just $2.4 billion under the CARES Act and would have received $8 billion under the stimulus bill proposed in December until the state and local assistance was stripped from the final bill.
Smith did not respond to a request for comment on how he came up with the figures.
In 2019, his state of Missouri received $23.6 billion more from Washington than it paid in federal taxes, 14th highest of the 50 states, while New Jersey received $10.3 billion less, ranking 49th, according to the State University of New York’s Rockefeller Institute of Government.
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