House Democrats settle income debate for direct payments

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House Democrats plan to move ahead with a coronavirus stimulus package that would keep the existing income limits for Americans who receive stimulus checks, while tightening eligibility for higher-earning Americans — a major win for progressives.

The plan, to be released later this week, would keep stimulus checks flowing to Americans making up to $75,000 a year — rather than the $50,000 threshold that some moderate Democrats had proposed. It would, however, tighten eligibility for those making over $75,000 as an individual — a higher-earning group that previously qualified for smaller checks.

Joint tax filers making $150,000 would qualify for direct payments, with that eligibility phasing out for earners making up to $200,000.

The House Ways and Means Committee will begin considering its part of the massive reconciliation bill on Wednesday and go through Friday. The tax-writing panel has a huge portion of the relief plan, including a boost in federal unemployment benefits and a major expansion of child tax benefits.

President Joe Biden has come under increasing pressure to tighten the qualifications for the third round of stimulus payments as Democrats in Congress draft the next big coronavirus rescue package. Biden has proposed a $1,400 check to most Americans, though Democrats have disagreed about exactly who should qualify for the payment.

Biden has personally told Democrats he is open to refining the proposal, ensuring that the checks flow to the neediest Americans. Moderate Democrats, in particular, have been vocal about tightening the income limits for the next payment. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), for instance, proposed phasing out checks for individuals making over $50,000 — rather than the $75,000 threshold used in previous bills.

But progressive Democrats — including those who hold powerful perches in the House and Senate — have rejected the idea. That includes Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who knocked Manchin’s plan to slash the income eligibility limits.

“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 whole help, the full benefit, I think that’s absurd,” Sanders said on CNN on Sunday.

Left-wing Democrats in the House, too, have revolted at the idea of narrowing the payments. Congressional Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said imposing further limits was “cruel.”

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