11 Senate Democrats push Biden to include recurring checks, jobless aid in next big bill

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Eleven Senate Democrats are pushing President Joe Biden to put recurring direct payments and enhanced jobless benefits in the economic recovery plan he will try to pass this year.

In a letter to the president announced Tuesday, the lawmakers said Congress should not cut off additional support to workers while the economy recovers. While the senators did not say how large they want the payments to be or how often they want them to come, they said they hope the aid will phase out only as the job market improves.

“This crisis is far from over, and families deserve certainty that they can put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads,” the senators wrote. “Families should not be at the mercy of constantly-shifting legislative timelines and ad hoc solutions.”

Biden is expected to outline his recovery plan in the coming weeks after Congress passes Democrats’ $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. The proposal is expected to include plans to revamp U.S. infrastructure and boost manufacturing as the country tries to regain its footing after the pandemic.

The 11 senators believe households will also need more direct aid to get to the other side of the crisis. The letter was backed by Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Senate Banking Committee Chair Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, D-Mass., Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol July 24, 2014 in Washington, DC. Sanders, chairman of the committee, has indicated disagreement with the House legislative proposal to address problems with the Department of Veterans Affairs, and also with the House Veterans Affairs Committee chairman, Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL).

Win McNamee | Getty Images

Democrats, who narrowly control both chambers of Congress, could have to pass the legislation through budget reconciliation. They are using the process, which enables them to approve bills without Republicans in the Senate, to pass their coronavirus aid plan.

It is unclear now if the recurring payments could win the support of the most conservative Senate Democrats. The party needs every member on board to win a simple majority in the 50-50 Senate. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., have expressed concerns about both the scope of $1,400 direct payments and the $15 per hour federal minimum wage initially included in the pandemic relief bill.

Senate Democrats led by Wyden have called for benefits to stay in place until the economy improves. They do not want Americans to see a sudden loss of support as they did last summer, when expanded unemployment insurance lapsed.

A $300 per week jobless aid supplement approved in December, along with provisions extending unemployment insurance to millions more Americans, will formally expire on March 14. The rescue bill, which Democrats hope to get to Biden’s desk by the end of next week, would increase the enhanced jobless benefit to $400 a week and keep the unemployment programs in place through Aug. 29.

Republicans have opposed major spending as part of the current coronavirus relief package. Ahead of the House’s passage of the $1.9 trillion bill early Saturday, they argued their counterparts included wasteful spending not needed to reopen businesses and schools.

No House Republicans voted for the legislation. No GOP senators have yet supported the bill.

Disagreements have emerged among Democrats over how much to rewrite U.S. economic policy in response to the pandemic. The House passed a $15 per hour minimum wage as part of the relief package, but the Senate parliamentarian ruled lawmakers could not include it under the chamber’s budget reconciliation rules.

Democrats considered instead putting tax penalties on companies that do not pay workers at least $15, but scrapped the idea as they worried it could delay the bill’s passage. Sanders and other progressives have urged Democrats to ignore or overrule the parliamentarian, a nonpartisan official appointed to the post.

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