WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — Many Americans were hopeful a Joe Biden presidency in combination with Democrats in control of the House and Senate would mean a fast track to approving and distributing $1,400 stimulus checks. To this point, that hasn’t been the case.
The latest check proposed by the new president would help cap a $2,000 promise he made in December. It’s part of a wide-ranging $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan that includes increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, expanding paid leave for workers, and increasing tax credits for families with children.
Over the last few days, the talk in Washington has focused on impeachment more than the relief plan – which has a number of Democrats concerned.
Here are a few options to getting $1,400 checks approved over the next few weeks:
Some sort of bipartisan compromise
Biden has a couple choices with the proposal: try to appease Republicans by sacrificing some of his agenda or try to pass as much as possible on a party-line basis.
As of now, it appears he’s taking option one.
On Sunday, the Biden administration met privately with a bipartisan group of 16 senators, mostly centrists, who were among those instrumental in crafting and delivering the most recent round of COVID aid. The ability to win over that coalition, led by Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., will be central to any path, a test-run for working with Congress on a bipartisan basis.
“Any new COVID relief package must be focused on the public health and economic crisis at hand,” Collins said in a Friday statement.
The Biden team’s approach could set the tenor for the rest of his presidency, showing whether he can provide the partisan healing that he called for in Wednesday’s inaugural address and whether the narrowly split Senate will be a trusted partner or a roadblock to the White House agenda.
Democrats choose to push forward on their own
Sen. Bernie Sanders, a former presidential candidate, said over the weekend that Democrats could push the relief plan through on their own utilizing reconciliation, a process that allows for a 51-majority vote, rather than the 60 votes normally required to advance legislation in the U.S. Senate.
Speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Sanders said if Republicans don’t support the measure he’d push for Democrats to use 50 votes in the Senate, plus a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Kamala Harris, to “pass legislation desperately needed by working families in this country right now.”
As of now, Biden doesn’t appear to want to go down this road. After speaking about unity throughout the last couple weeks, this has the potential to send the opposite message.
Checks pulled into stand-alone legislation
One issue with a complex plan that totals nearly $2 trillion – is that it’s a complex plan that totals nearly $2 trillion.
Both Democrats and Republicans will have questions and concerns about what’s included in the proposal. As you might imagine, that would slow down the approval process.
Some are suggesting the best bet to quickly get money to Americans is to put the $1,400 checks in stand-alone legislation. A smaller proposal certainly has a higher chance for quick approval.
Either way, February would likely be the earliest we could see a package approved.
Once approved, the U.S. Department of the Treasury could distribute checks in a matter of days. They’ve improved the processing speed substantially from the first round of $1,200 checks to the more recent $600 payment.
The coronavirus relief plan comes as a divided nation is in the grip of the pandemic’s most dangerous wave yet. So far, more than 400,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the U.S., and recent government numbers reported a jump in weekly unemployment claims, to 965,000, a sign that rising infections are forcing businesses to cut back and lay off workers.
Under Biden’s multipronged strategy, about $400 billion would go directly to combating the pandemic, while the rest is focused on economic relief and aid to states and localities.
About $20 billion would be allocated for a more disciplined focus on vaccination, on top of some $8 billion already approved by Congress. Biden has called for setting up mass vaccination centers and sending mobile units to hard-to-reach areas.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.