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Biden, Senate Democrats agree to limit eligibility for $1,400 checks

The Senate bill would cut off payments at $80,000 for single filers and $160,000 for joint filers.
Image: President Joe Biden speaks about efforts to combat COVID-19, in the State Dining Room of the White House on March 2, 2021.
President Joe Biden speaks about efforts to combat COVID-19, in the State Dining Room of the White House on March 2, 2021.Evan Vucci / AP

WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats plan to give $1,400 checks to fewer people under a deal struck with President Joe Biden, according to two sources familiar with it.

Every American who filed individually and makes up to $75,000 would still get the full amount before it begins to reduce at incomes above that. But rather than zero out at $100,000 earnings, as the last Covid-19 relief bill does, the Senate bill would cut off payments at $80,000, the sources said.

For couples filing jointly, incomes up to $150,000 would still get the full amount. But rather than zero out at $200,000, the Senate bill would cut off payments at $160,000 in earnings.

For taxpayers filing as heads of households, the new plan would make the full $1,400 available for those earning under $112,500, with the payment zeroing out at $120,000.

Essentially, the payments would phase out at a faster rate under the new proposal Wednesday, which came one day after Biden met with moderate Democratic senators who voiced some concerns and said the relief should be more narrowly targeted.

But it would maintain the crucial $1,400 top-line number for the bulk of recipients, a campaign promise that Biden was determined to keep. It was also a closing pitch by Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock in the Georgia runoffs in January, which helped Democrats capture two seats and seize control of the Senate.

Ossoff told reporters on Thursday that the reduced eligibility doesn't amount to a broken promise because incomes up to $75,000 can still get the full payment.

"This is what Georgians sent us to Washington to fight for, and this is what we’re going to deliver," he said, emphasizing that it is "vital" that Democrats "hold the line" on that.

The changes from the restricted eligibility would save $12 billion, said Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who made clear he preferred to keep the cutoff at the $100,000 to $200,000 level.

The Senate bill would maintain $400-per-week federal unemployment benefits through August, like the House bill that passed early Saturday, one of the sources said.

The Democratic-controlled Senate is expected to proceed to the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill as early as Thursday, with a final vote possible by the end of the week.

Party leaders are still waiting for a score from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that affirms that the legislation would comply with rules under the reconciliation process, which enables Democrats in the evenly split Senate to bypass the filibuster and approve the bill with a simple majority.

It is the second time Democrats have narrowed the new round of $1,400 stimulus checks. To appease moderates, the House bill had phased out the $1,400 payments a bit more quickly than earlier bills, with couples making $199,000 receiving no money compared to previous bills when they got some money.

The deal would also have an impact on dependent payments of up to $1,400 per dependent.

Some Democrats had argued against narrowing the eligibility criteria, warning that it would anger people who were included in previous rounds of cash payments during the Trump administration and didn't expect to be left out this time.

The House bill got no Republican votes and no Republican senators are on board with it, as party leaders decry the package as a "liberal wish list."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Wednesday that the package is "an American wish list" that "includes a whole bunch of bipartisan amendments that were accepted," such as help for restaurants, a vaccination public awareness program and more targeting of direct payments.

He pointed to polls that show broad public support, including among Republican voters.

"It seems like the only people who are dead set against this bill are Republican senators — not Republicans out in the country," Schumer said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., criticized it as a partisan bill, unlike previous relief efforts last year, and said some provisions would be spent over several years.

"The Democrats had a choice. They chose to go it alone, tack to the left and leave families’ top priorities on the cutting-room floor," he said.

House Democratic leaders will have to pass the same version as the Senate's before it can go to Biden's desk. Some said Wednesday that they weren't aware of the details of the Senate plan to limit eligibility for the payments, including House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., a leadership member who cautioned that the measure could have an "adverse impact" in high-cost areas like New York City, said: "We'll take a look at it. I want to see the numbers."