sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks at the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee nominee for Energy and Natural Resources nominee on Capitol Hill, January 27, 2021 in Washington, DC.
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sen. Bernie Sanders said Sunday he opposes lowering the income threshold for receiving direct payments from $1,400 in the next coronavirus relief bill, highlighting a split Democrats must resolve before they can pass the $1.9 trillion package.
The most conservative member of the Democrats – Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia — has expressed concern that the stimulus measures, such as those currently being pursued, would go to too many high-income people who did not lose their jobs during the pandemic. President Joe Biden has said it is open to negotiations on eligibility for payments, which under the current proposal would go entirely to individuals earning up to $75,000 and couples earning up to $150,000.
Sanders, a Vermont independent and chair of the Senate Budget Committee, and several colleagues have argued that Democrats should not lower the income cap. Eligibility for checks has emerged as the major sticking point within the party as it tries to push through a bailout package without Republican votes in the Senate.
A single apostasy would sink the bill.
Sanders told CNN he supports a “strong cliff” for payments “so it doesn’t spill over to people making $300,000 a year.” As now modeled, the plan would gradually phase out checks by 5% of every dollar a person earns over the limit.
“And that’s what I support, that’s what I think most people understand,” Sanders said of phasing out payments faster. “But to tell a worker in Vermont or California or anywhere that if you’re making $52,000 a year, you’re too rich to get this help, the full benefit, I think that’s absurd.”
Reports have suggested Democrats could begin phasing out deposits at $50,000 in income for individuals rather than $75,000.
In his committee post, Sanders will play a key role in drafting the bill and ensuring it complies with the budget reconciliation process. The tool allows Democrats to legislate on their own in a 50-50 Senate split. Vice President Kamala Harris will hold the deciding vote.
Democrats will begin drafting aid legislation this week and hope to pass it before March 14, when key unemployment programs that boost millions of Americans expire. In addition to the payments, the bill includes unemployment benefits of $400 a week through September, $20 billion for a Covid vaccination program, $350 billion in state and local government aid and $30 billion for rent and utilities.
Biden has said he is open to changing eligibility for the payments. He emphasized Friday that “I am not shrinking the checks.”
Appearing on CNN for Treasury Secretary Sanders Janet Yellen indicated that she was reluctant to lower the income cap for receiving a full payment of $1,400 to $50,000.
“If you think of an elementary school teacher or police officer who makes $60,000 a year, and is faced with out-of-school children, and people who may have had to retire from the workforce to care for them… [Biden] thinks, and I certainly agree, that it’s appropriate for people to get support there,” she said.
As part of a wave of votes before it passed a budget resolution Friday to kick-start the reconciliation process, the Senate overwhelmingly backed an amendment to ban high-income taxpayers from receiving incentive checks. However, the symbolic measure did not define who those high earners are.