Democrats are about to make it rain.
This week, the Senate is expected to take up and pass President Joe Biden’s massive $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, the fifth major piece of legislation to be considered since the pandemic began about a year ago.
The bill includes $1,400 payments for most adults and for each of their dependents. That means households will receive much larger payments than Congress delivered in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March 2020, which paid $1,200 per adult but only $500 per child.
A family of four earning less than $150,000 stands to receive $5,600 in direct payments from the bill, compared to $3,400 from the CARES Act. (Two-earner households earning above $200,000 will get nothing.)
The average CARES rebate for tax filers in the middle 20% of earners was $1,642, according to the conservative Tax Foundation, while middle-earning households will get $2,431 on average from the new bill.
Democrats conceived of the forthcoming payments as a follow-up to the smaller $600 checks Congress sent as part of a compromise bill in December, since Biden and then-Democratic Senate candidates in Georgia had promised they would support $2,000 checks.
The package also includes big expansions of tax credits that will send another $3,600 per child under the age of 6 to the poorest households, though it’s unclear if the cash will arrive as a lump sum during next year’s tax season or as advance monthly payments starting this summer. Experts say the money would put a huge dent in child poverty.
Already, the $600 payments and extra unemployment benefits from the December bill pushed poverty down in January, according to researchers.
A family of four with $100,000 of income would have received $9,500 in rebate checks and tax credits in 2020, but it also stands to receive $22,600 this year from the December bill, plus the additional payments and tax credits in the new bill, according to Marc Goldwein, an economist with the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
The new bill would also tack on $400 per week in added federal unemployment benefits, which will start to expire March 14 if Congress fails to act, plus hundreds of billions of dollars for schools, restaurants and coronavirus vaccine distribution.
A $15 minimum wage hike is unlikely to be included in the bill, however. The Senate parliamentarian ruled last week that lawmakers can’t increase the minimum wage through the budget reconciliation process, the legislative maneuver that would allow Democrats to pass legislation with a simple majority. Progressives are calling on Democrats to overrule the parliamentarian ― but doing so would require 51 votes, an unlikely scenario.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said last week that Biden “respects the parliamentarian’s decision and the Senate’s process,” signaling that the administration isn’t girding for a messy fight that could delay passage of the bill.
It’s possible that lawmakers eventually agree to a more modest increase to the minimum wage, which currently stands at $7.25 and has not been raised for more than a decade. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a key moderate, is supportive of an $11 minimum wage. Several Republicans have also floated minimum wage increases. Democrats will need GOP support to pass a stand-alone minimum wage hike, which requires 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.
The final details of the $1.9 trillion package will be hashed out later this week when senators are given an opportunity to offer amendments during a marathon session in the chamber. Democrats will need to stay completely united, a major challenge in an evenly divided 50-50 Senate.
A group of centrist Democrats met virtually with Biden on Monday to discuss changes to the bill, including adding guardrails to a $350 billion fund for state and local governments. Several attendees expressed hope that the fund includes dedicated aid for more rural communities, as well as additional funding to expand broadband internet connectivity.
“My guess is it’s probably gonna change, but pretty modestly,” Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) told reporters after the meeting.
So far, no Republicans are expected to support the bill, which passed last week in the Democratic-controlled House on a party-line vote. GOP attempts to brand the legislation as a payoff to progressives full of wasteful spending haven’t had much success. Polls show wide support for Biden’s plan, including among a majority of Republican voters.
“We should listen to our voters. And the majority of the American people, the overwhelming majority of the American people and of both parties, are urging us to act,” Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) told CNN on Sunday. “We’re moving ahead with a bill that probably will get no Republican votes in the Senate, but will have broad Republican support in the country.”
Republican lawmakers acknowledge that Biden’s plan contains popular elements, but they argue that other items need to be trimmed substantially. In particular, they object to sending hundreds of billions in aid to schools and state and local governments.
“Very few people look at all the specifics. I think what they understand is there’s more money ― and we do need more money to help people ― but they look a little more deeply and realize the bill needs to be improved. And that’s what I’m trying to do,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) told HuffPost when asked about the polling data.
Once the Senate passes the bill, it will go back to the House for another vote before being sent to Biden’s desk for his signature. Democrats are racing to pass the bill in a few weeks to prevent the lapse in added unemployment benefits and boost vaccine distribution for millions of Americans.