Joe Biden Might Be 'Open' to Republican Attempts to Gut $2,000 Stimulus Checks

This story was co-published with The Daily Poster

A group of Republican senators is pushing to cut the size of the next round of COVID-19 relief checks and significantly limit who's eligible to receive the payments, as the Biden administration continues to indicate that it would be open to further restricting who's eligible for survival checks.

Last month, President Joe Biden promised that $2,000 checks would "go out the door immediately" if Democrats managed to win the two Georgia senate runoff races and claim control of the Senate. After Democrats pulled off two victories in Georgia, Biden quickly narrowed his pledge to new $1,400 checks, asserting that the $600 checks authorized by Congress in December were a down payment on his plan.

On Sunday, ten moderate Republicans proposed new $1,000 checks instead as part of their own scaled-down coronavirus relief package. Under their proposal, stimulus checks would go to far fewer Americans than in previous relief bills—only to "families who need assistance the most," according to a letter they sent to the White House.

joe biden stimulus checks president $2,000
President Joe Biden in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC on January 27, 2021. Republican senators (and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin) are pushing to limit the size of stimulus checks and the number of Americans who will receive them. MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

While the details haven't been released yet, one Republican involved in the effort, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, told CNN on Sunday that direct payments should go only to individuals earning less than $50,000 and families earning less than $100,000.

In previous COVID relief bills, full rounds of stimulus checks have gone to individuals earning up to $75,000 and couples earning up to $150,000. Limiting assistance the way Portman described would cut off relief to millions of Americans who have previously received economic impact payments.

"We're open"

Republicans' insistence that relief checks go only to poorer Americans is a relatively recent objection.

At least two Republicans involved in the new effort, Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, co-sponsored a standalone bill last summer that would have sent out $1,000 checks using the same income thresholds as the COVID relief legislation passed by Congress in December.

Just a few years ago, Senate Republicans passed a tax overhaul that benefitted the wealthy and slashed the corporate tax rate.

While early reporting suggests that Democrats are unlikely to go along with the new proposal from moderate Republicans, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia helped start the push for limiting payment eligibility, repeatedly insisting that new rounds of relief checks be more targeted even though the payments have been means-tested all along.

Biden, meanwhile, indicated last week that he would be open to setting new income limits for the checks, and National Economic Council director Brian Deese reiterated on Sunday that the White House is open to changing the income caps.

When CNN host Dana Bash pressed Deese to say whether the administration will "target those $1,400 checks," Deese responded: "Yes, on the $1,400 checks, we are open to looking at how to make the entire package effective at achieving its objective, including providing support to families with children, providing direct child tax credits to families that have children and who have been hit the hardest in this crisis."

After Bash again asked whether the White House wants to see checks be "more targeted to the people who need them most and not go to people who aren't going to spend them," Deese replied: "We're open to that idea. We're open to ideas across the board."

Biden economic adviser Jared Bernstein has publicly pushed back against the idea of further means testing the checks. Bernstein said last week that the checks are "better targeted than I think most people realize," and explained that "it's not just people at the bottom who need the money."

The push to limit eligibility for COVID stimulus checks was boosted by an economic analysis released last week suggesting that middle-income Americans don't need money because they didn't immediately spend the $600 checks that Congress sent out in December. The study by economists at Opportunity Insights—a Harvard think tank funded by the family foundations of Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Mike Bloomberg—found that higher-income households will only spend about $45 of the $600 checks within the first month of receiving them.

The economists suggested that new COVID relief payments should be limited to individuals earning less than $50,000 and couples earning less than $75,000—a proposal that would make about half of all U.S. households ineligible for stimulus checks, according to census data.

The study was favorably cited in news articles and opinion columns arguing that stimulus checks should be more limited, despite data showing that the checks are distributed more fairly than other popular programs.