$1,400 Stimulus Checks Headed to Senate After House Passes Biden's $1.9T Relief Package

The House of Representatives passed President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion package on Friday, setting the Senate up for a vote on his critical campaign promise of another round of stimulus checks.

Votes fell largely along party lines with 219 Democrats and 212 Republicans supporting the package. The Democratic caucus in the Senate is poised to pass the package by way of reconciliation, but that could require it to undergo some changes, including cutting the $15 minimum wage plan.

While not an exact replica of what Biden outlined in his proposal in January, the package that passed the House bears a close resemblance. It includes another round of stimulus checks and expanded unemployment.

If passed by the Senate, individuals earning under $75,000 and joint filers with incomes below $150,000 would receive a direct payment of $1,400. Additional $1,400 payments would also be allocated for eligible adult dependents.

Biden appeared to be open to compromising with Republicans on a lower threshold, but without a need for GOP support, Democrats moved forward with the president's proposal.

Legislators are working against the clock and face pressure to pass a package before unemployment benefits expire in March. An estimated 10 million people remain unemployed and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the package was "on track" to hit the president's desk for his signature before the March 14th expiration deadline.

nancy pelosi stimulus check package pass
The House of Representatives passed President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion relief package. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks during her first weekly news conference under the new Biden administration on January 21 in Washington, D.C. Justin Sullivan/Getty

The House bill would extend the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program and the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation benefits through August. The PUA program allows for states to assist those who don't qualify for regular unemployment, including those who are self-employed, and the FPUC expands benefits.

Expanded weekly benefits are currently $300, but the House bill would increase that to $400.

Unemployment benefits have been a point of disagreement between Republicans and Democrats since the passage of the Coronavirus, Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March. While Democrats consider it a necessary measure given the economic toll the pandemic has had on Americans, Republicans argue the extra benefits incentivize people to remain unemployed.

However, it may not matter if Republicans disagree with the Democrat-led proposal for responding to the pandemic.

With a 50-50 split in the Senate, the Democratic Caucus doesn't have enough votes to overcome a Republican filibuster, so they're pursuing passing the package through a process called reconciliation. The process could give Democrats a path to pass the package with just 51 votes, which they have with support from the two Independents that caucus with them and Senator Kamala Harris as the tie-breaking vote.

However, there's one key element of the package that won't be part of a reconciliation vote—the $15 minimum wage plan. The provision would increase the federal minimum wage to $9.50 in June. In 2022, it would increase to $11 per hour, followed by $12.50 in 2023 and $14 in 2024. The full $15 would begin in 2025.

The Byrd Rule restricts what can be included in reconciliation legislation and prohibits provisions that are "extraneous" to the budget. On Thursday, Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough ruled against including minimum wage in the COVID relief bill.

Without reconciliation, passing the package with the minimum wage plan would require 60 votes, which the Democratic caucus doesn't have. Given that it may be tough to get 10 Republicans on board with the plan, the parliamentarian's ruling reignited calls to end the filibuster, which would bring Democrats back to the point of needing only a simple majority.