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Sanders says it's 'absurd' to lower income threshold for stimulus checks

Sanders said phasing out checks beginning at $50,000 for individuals "makes no sense to me at all, nor do I think it makes sense to the American people."
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., questions energy secretary nominee Jennifer Granholm during her confirmation hearing Jan. 27.Jim Watson / AP file

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., decried the push to lower the income threshold to be eligible for stimulus checks in the latest Covid-19 relief package Sunday, calling it "absurd" and senseless.

"Well, I think what we have done in the past and what we have promised the American people, we have said two things in the last month," Sanders, chairman of the Budget Committee, said on CNN's "State of the Union." "We said we're going to get you $2,000. And that's $600 plus $1,400. And what we're going to do is say that everybody, a single person, individual $75,000 or lower, and a couple of $150,000 or lower, will be eligible for that full $2,000, $600 plus $1,400.

"Now, when people said, 'We don't want rich people to get that benefit,' I understand that. I agree," Sanders continued. "But to say to a worker in Vermont or California or any place else that, if you're making $52,000 a year, you are too rich to get this help, the full benefit, I think that that's absurd."

Senate Democrats are split over who should be eligible for a new round of checks as they seek to pass a new stimulus package. The last round of checks was cut off for people making more than $99,000 or couples who made above $198,000. In his initial proposal, Biden recommended the same threshold.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., last week offered a nonbinding amendment backed by some other Democrats to "ensure upper-income taxpayers are not eligible" for the checks. Manchin wants to phase out the stimulus checks beginning at $50,000 per person or $100,000 per couple, rather than at $75,000 and $150,000.

Biden also opened the door to adjusting the income levels Wednesday in a call with Democrats.

Speaking on "State of the Union," Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Biden thinks it's appropriate for those making more than $50,000 to get the full benefit. She didn't say whether sentiment extends up to $75,000.

"Well, President Biden is certainly willing to work with members of Congress to define what's fair," she said. "And he wouldn't want to see a household making over $300,000 receive these payments. But if you think about an elementary school teacher or a policeman making $60,000 a year and faced with children who are out of school and people who may have had to withdraw from the labor force in order to take care of them and many extra burdens, I would — he thinks, and I would certainly agree — that it's appropriate for people there to get support."

In an interview on ABC News' "This Week," Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg pressed for immediate action when asked whether it's worth it to lower the threshold if it means passing the bill sooner.

"Look, there's an active conversation going on right now, obviously, but the bottom line is we've got to support as many Americans as we can as robustly as we can and as quickly as we can," he said. "Time is of the essence."