On Sunday, Sen. Bernie Sanders told reporters that he opposes cutting the income threshold for receiving $1,400 direct payments in the next stimulus package. According to CNBC, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who is considered one of the more conservative members of the Democratic Party, raised concerns about whether too many stimulus checks are going to high-income individuals who did not lose their jobs during the course of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In response, President Joe Biden said that he would be open to negotiating the eligibility requirements for payments. However, Sanders is not on board with that option.
The current stimulus proposal would call for $1,400 stimulus payments to go to individuals who make up to $75,000 per year (or $150,000 per couple). While Biden said that he was open to negotiating that income threshold, Sanders and some of his other colleagues in the Senate have argued that Democrats should not lower this number. CNBC reported that eligibility requirements seem to be the biggest contention point amongst Democrats who are trying to push forward a stimulus bill without Republican votes. Since there is a 50-50 split in the Senate, Vice President Kamala Harris would break the tie and side with the Democrats if they can agree on another stimulus package. As a result of this split in the Senate, one defection within the party could sink the bill.
Sanders discussed the topic of the next stimulus package with CNN. He told the outlet that he supports a "strong cliff" for payments "so it doesn't kind of spillover to people making $300,000 a year." Their current plan would phase stimulus checks out by 5% of every dollar that the individual makes above the eligibility cap. The Vermont senator added, "And that's what I support, that's what I think most people understand. But to say to a worker in Vermont or California or any place else, that if you're making, you know, $52,000 a year, you are too rich to get this help, the full benefit, I think that that's absurd."
Instead of the current eligibility cap, Democrats could potentially start phasing out direct payments at the $50,000 level if they agree on that threshold. But, in his position as chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Sanders will have a major role in crafting the bill and making sure that it complies with the budget reconciliation process. Democrats are currently aiming to pass the next stimulus bill before March 14.