Stimulus checks: Lawmakers consider scaling back Biden’s $1.9T virus relief bill

Coronavirus Stimulus

The American flag flies at half staff before a candlelight vigil and moment of silence at the U.S. Capitol, on February 23, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Al Drago/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — Republicans are rallying against President Joe Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill as senators from both parties consider scaling back or cutting some of its measures.

By late Wednesday, not a single Republican in either chamber had publicly said they’d back the legislation.

“I haven’t seen a Republican yet that’s found something in there that they agree with,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. “I think all Republicans believe in three simple things: They want a bill that puts us back to work, back to school and back to health. This bill is too costly, too corrupt and too liberal.”

But Democrats are still pushing forward, saying the bill could help tackle the heavy human and economic toll of the pandemic, which has killed more than 500,000 Americans and thrown millions out of work.

“If congressional Republicans want to oppose all that, my response is: Good luck,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the Senate floor.

The House of Representatives could pass the bill on Friday. The Senate is likely to follow up in early March. 

Senators are awaiting a ruling on whether the proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour can be included in the bill. Specifically, the Senate parliamentarian will soon decide whether the minimum wage increase is permitted under a rule allowing a simple majority of the 100-member Senate to approve the sweeping relief measure, instead of the chamber’s typical 60-vote majority.

If the parliamentarian decides the minimum wage provision can remain in the bill, it would be a major boost for its proponents. But there would be no guarantee the measure would survive because some moderates oppose it or want it scaled back. 

Both Democrats and Republicans in the Senate are looking into dialing down some of the bill’s biggest provisions, including expanded federal unemployment benefits, $1,400 direct payments to Americans and money for state and local governments, according to lawmakers and aides.

Some rural-state senators hoped that such cost cuts could create savings to be used to improve their lagging broadband service.

According to a Senate aide familiar with private conversations, various senators mulled tying additional federal unemployment benefits to individual states’ jobless rates.

A new round of stimulus checks could be scaled back to exclude more high earners, the aide said. Several senators, including Democrat Joe Manchin, have said they were looking at a minimum wage increase to $10 to $11 an hour, instead of $15 by 2025, up from the current $7.25.

“I think even though several Democrats have some concerns, that we can still find a basis for agreement,” Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, told reporters.

A number of states have been approving their own coronavirus aid packages instead of waiting for Washington. State leaders are signing off on spending hundreds of millions of dollars to help residents and business owners devastated by the pandemic.

In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom this week signed a $7.6 billion relief package that includes $600 in one-time payments for about 5.7 million residents, including immigrants who were left out of previous relief initiatives. Another $2 billon is going to struggling businesses.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, signed legislation last week with bipartisan support in the Democratic-controlled legislature for one-time stimulus payments of $300 for individuals and $500 for families, reaching about 400,000 people. It also provides up to $9,000 in sales tax relief for small businesses.

New Mexico and Pennsylvania are funneling grants directly to cash-starved businesses, while North Carolina’s governor wants additional state aid for such things as bonus pay for teachers and boosting rural internet speeds.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report. Reporting by AP’s Alan Fram and Brian White, as well as Reuters’ Richard Cowan.

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