What's Next for Biden's $1,400 Stimulus Checks? Hurdles, Holdups and Compromise

President Joe Biden made clear that his top priority after taking office would be addressing the surging COVID-19 pandemic while simultaneously passing additional relief to support American workers and families amid the economic fallout from the novel virus. But whether the president will be able to garner significant bipartisan support for another massive relief bill remains to be seen.

The president and Democratic lawmakers are weighing their options with Biden's opening offer being a $1.9 trillion package—including $1,400 stimulus checks for most Americans; higher federal unemployment benefits; aid for states and schools; and additional funds for testing and vaccine distribution, among a slew of other priorities.

Although Biden has repeatedly said he wants to govern with bipartisan support, and is actively meeting with GOP lawmakers to discuss the legislation, some moderate Republicans have already expressed skepticism about passing another sizable package so soon after supporting the $900 billion stimulus legislation in December.

Meanwhile, Democrats only have the narrowest control in the Senate and a slim majority in the House—meaning any Democratic defections could cause serious headaches for the Biden administration's goals. On top of that, the Senate is in the process of confirming the new president's nominees for his Cabinet and other administration roles, while the questions surrounding how former President Donald Trump's impeachment trial could play out remain under discussion. Even if Biden were to attempt to pass the relief bill without Republican buy-in, the realities of the current Senate agenda would delay the process.

Typically, the COVID-19 relief package would need 60 votes to pass through the Senate—a tall order, as it would mean at least 10 Republican Senators would need to back the bill. If Biden is unable to garner that support, however, Democrats have said they can go through the so-called budget reconciliation process, which would only need a slim majority to pass.

President Joe Biden
In this screenshot, President Joe Biden speaks during the Celebrating America Primetime Special on January 20. Biden aims to quickly pass a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill with bipartisan support Handout/Biden Inaugural Committee/Getty

"When the GOP controlled the Senate, they passed trillions in tax breaks largely to the top 1 percent and multinational corporations by a simple majority vote through reconciliation," Senator Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with the Democrats, tweeted on Wednesday. "We must use the same process to protect working families, the sick and the poor," he added.

Sanders, now the chair of the Senate Budget Committee as Democrats have taken control of the Senate, would be integral to the reconciliation process to push through Biden's proposal. But at the present, Democrats and the Biden White House remain hopeful that they can garner at least some Republican support.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters during a Wednesday evening briefing that Biden's "clear preference" is to work with Republican to pass further relief. Psaki added that the administration is "not going to take any tools off the table for how the House and Senate can get this urgent package done."

While opposition from GOP lawmakers such as Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky—who staunchly opposed the $900 aid package in December—would be expected, even some more moderate Republicans have expressed concerns about another package so soon.

Senator Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, said this week that "the ink is just barely dry on the $900 billion" bill from December, Bloomberg reported. Senator Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican, shared a similar view, suggesting that Biden's $1.9 trillion offer is "not well-timed." Romney said lawmakers should give the December relief bill "some time to be able to influence the economy."

Murkowski and Romney are key members of the bipartisan Common Sense Coalition in the Senate. Other members of the group, Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine and moderate Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, plan to meet with Biden's economic advisers in the coming days to discuss the package. Whether they will reach a compromise remains an open question, and some lawmakers are suggesting Congress should pass a smaller bipartisan package in the short term.

"One of the things I think could really get people together is vaccine distribution ... and maybe there's some additional monetary assistance," Representative Tom Reed, a New York Republican who co-chairs the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, said, Politico reported. "Maybe there's a conversation there to be had."

Meanwhile, many economists are urging lawmakers to go big to address the magnitude of the crises. New weekly unemployment claims remain at historic highs, and millions of Americans are struggling to have food. At the same time, the novel virus continues to spread rapidly, as the U.S. remains the country with the highest number of deaths and infections. More than 406,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 in the past year.

Senators
Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia), Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire) listen as a bipartisan group of Democrat and Republican members of Congress announce a proposal for a COVID-19 relief bill on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on December 1, 2020 SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty

Josh Bivens, director of research at the Economic Policy Institute, praised Biden's plan shortly after it was unveiled last week.

"Most importantly, this package is at the scale of the problems it is aiming to solve. To support the spending and investment needed to fully repair the labor market, we estimated in early December that roughly $3 trillion was needed. Less than one-third of this amount was included in the end-of-year recovery package, and the Biden administration's proposal fills in the remaining amount," Bivens said in a statement.

Newsweek reached out to the White House as well as House and Senate leaders for comment, but they did not immediately respond.