Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) reportedly
set up the Sunday call between sixteen senators and Biden administration officials, which included Biden’s coronavirus coordinator, Jeff Zients, and director of the White House National Economic Council, Brian Deese. The conversation, which centered around the president’s coronavirus relief proposal, which he outlined this month, spanned over an hour as lawmakers reached a “consensus” that vaccine distribution should remain a priority. However, lawmakers also expressed concern that the proposal offers too much aid to higher-income earners.
Politico, some of the lawmakers “balked at the stimulus payments, urging the White House to make them targeted toward those in greater need, according to sources on the call.”
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) was among them, questioning why a family making $300,000 would receive benefits under the proposal and identifying the overall price tag as a “concern.” Sen. Angus King (I-ME) felt similarly.
“This isn’t monopoly money,” he said, according to
Collins said she was “the first to raise that issue” regarding more targeted payments but added that there “seemed to be a lot of agreement.”
“I would say that it was not clear to me how the administration came up with its $1.9 trillion figure for the package,” she said.
The Maine lawmaker added that lawmakers need to reconvene and craft a “reasonable” bipartisan package.
“The administration clearly is very eager to move very quickly. And we want to make sure that there is justification, especially since there’s so much money remaining from the previous packages,” she added.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) also affirmed that the search for more “targeted assistance” remained a concern across the board.
“That was a general issue that was expressed around a number of things: The more targeted the assistance can be where it’s needed most, the more helpful,” Shaheen said.
The senators agreed, however, that vaccine distribution should be the priority over provisions like the $15 minimum wage, which cannot get the support of 10 Republicans. For now, the Biden administration is pursuing a bill through regular order rather than budget reconciliation, which can be used to evade a filibuster. But even some Democrats indicated they are not sold on the Biden package.
Biden’s $1.9 trillion measure, which he
unveiled this month, has come under fire from more progressive members of his caucus, particularly because it offers $1,400 stimulus checks rather than $2,000. However, Biden’s team contends that the president is keeping his word for $2,000 in relief when combining the $1,400 with the $600 checks distributed via the $2.3 trillion government spending and coronavirus relief measure former President Donald Trump signed last month. Some Democrat lawmakers, including Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and Ro Khanna (D-CA), believe that $2,000 checks should be recurring, at least for the time being.
Democrats expect to
fail on delivering a relief measure to Biden’s desk until March, Punchbowl News founder Jake Sherman reported last week.