President-elect Joe Biden’s plans for a major new economic relief package boosting stimulus payments to $2,000 ran into possibly fatal opposition from his own party Friday as Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) said he would “absolutely not” support a new round of checks.
Manchin, a moderate who will hold great sway in a Senate split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, made his views known even as the Biden team worked to develop a coronavirus relief package that would include new stimulus checks, extended unemployment benefits, and more.
Biden is also expected to push for additional funding for vaccine distribution, as well as money that will help states and cities, as part of his initial package, according to three people with knowledge of the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity ahead of a formal announcement.
With economic conditions deteriorating, Biden wants to get a new relief package passed as quickly as possible after his Jan. 20 inauguration. Biden has made new stimulus checks a central promise, specifically telling Georgia voters that they would be getting $2,000 payments if Democrats won Senate elections in the state this week.
Democrats did win those races, clinching a majority in the Senate and unified control of Washington for the first time since the start of the Obama administration. Following the Georgia wins, incoming Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) also pledged that the $2,000 checks would be an early priority.
But with such slim margins, Biden and Schumer may not be able to lose even a single Democratic vote if they attempt to move legislation under special Senate rules that allow bills to pass with a simple majority, instead of the 60 vote margin generally required.
Without united Democratic support Biden would need to attract Republican votes for his proposal. And while some Republicans have supported $2,000 stimulus payments, but there is scant GOP support for other elements of Biden’s emerging plan, such as extending unemployment benefits.
That means Manchin’s opposition to new stimulus payments could kill Biden’s proposal altogether, or force him to reshape it dramatically. And it offers an early preview of the challenges Biden will face in governing over the next four years even with his party controlling both chambers of Congress.
“Absolutely not. No. Getting people vaccinated, that’s job No. 1,” Manchin said in an interview with The Washington Post when asked if he would support a new round of checks.
“How is the money that we invest now going to help us best to get jobs back and get people employed? And I can’t tell you that sending another check out is gonna do that to a person that’s already got a check,” Manchin added.
“You know, we have a difference of opinion,” Manchin said regarding Schumer’s promise to move quickly on the checks. “That’s the beauty of our whole caucus. We have a difference of opinion on that.”
Formal discussions between congressional Democratic leaders and Biden officials on the details of the stimulus package are expected to begin in earnest in coming days. Officials stressed that conversations are premature and that no final decisions have been made about key legislative priorities, or the timing or exact shape of the effort.
The local aid component of the package may take the form of additional money for specific needs local governments face — such as funding for education and child care — rather than direct grants to states and cities.
A Biden transition spokesperson declined to comment on specifics of the plans.
Biden’s push for a big new stimulus package comes amid a rapid deterioration of the economy under the strain of a third wave of the coronavirus. The economy shed 140,000 jobs in December, a steep decline just as U.S. covid-19 deaths hit an all-time high.
“Clearly, there’s a need. The new unemployment numbers are shocking,” said Jim Kessler, co-president of Third Way, a centrist think tank. “State and local aid has to be part of it. There will be additional stimulus checks. And you have to make sure unemployment benefits continue as well.”
Enhanced unemployment benefits that had been included in a $900 billion package signed by President Trump are set to expire in mid-March, creating a deadline for congressional action before then. That package also included $600 stimulus checks, so approving new $1,400 checks would bring stimulus payments to $2,000, a figure that has attracted widespread support.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) already passed a similar measure through the House last month.
Biden is also likely to push a larger legislative effort later in 2021 after the initial stimulus package. That effort is expected to focus on spending trillions of dollars on infrastructure spending and clean energy jobs. The former vice president additionally has pushed for significant overhauls to America’s health care system, something that could also be wrapped into legislation later in the year.
Axios reported on Thursday about the Biden team’s push for additional $1,400 stimulus payments on top of the existing $600 stimulus payments approved by Congress at the end of the year.