President Joe Biden told congressional Democrats on Wednesday he would not back down on including $1,400 checks for struggling Americans in his COVID-19 relief plan but would consider tighter limits on who gets them, lawmakers and aides said.
Biden held a conference call with House of Representatives Democrats and talked with Democratic senators at the White House as the party prepared to use a procedural maneuver to push Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package through without Republican votes if necessary.
"We did have a conversation about the direct payments and how those might be modified in a way to ensure they're targeted," Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat from Biden's home state of Delaware, said as he left the White House Wednesday morning.
"But President Biden was clear with us and with our caucus yesterday, he's not going to forget the middle class, he's not going to walk back from a real commitment."
Biden has made addressing the heavy human and economic toll of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 447,000 Americans and thrown millions out of work, a key focus of the early weeks of his administration.
The president told House Democrats in a conference call that he does not want to begin his presidency with a broken promise on delivering relief, said a House Democratic aide.
Biden's proposal mirrors income requirements in previous COVID-19 bills that would provide payments to individuals making up to $75,000, and couples $150,000, a year.
When White House Press Secretary Jen Paski on Tuesday was asked to draw some lines on where Biden stood on the stimulus checks, she offered an example of a couple, a nurse and a teacher, making $120,000 and said under the Biden plan, they would get a stimulus check, but not under a plan by Republican senators.
Congressional Democrats on Tuesday took their first steps to fast-track the massive aid package, voting in both chambers to open debate on a spending resolution that would give them a legislative tool called "reconciliation" to pass the relief without Republican support.
Biden met a group of 10 moderate Republican senators on Monday and had said he wanted to garner bipartisan support for his plan, which includes more money for vaccines and additional unemployment benefits.
But Republicans overall have balked at the price tag and pointed to the $4 trillion in COVID-19 aid passed last year.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the Democrats' strategy does not preclude bipartisan cooperation, but vowed a sweeping measure that includes assistance for the unemployed, businesses, housing, schools, state and local governments and vaccine distribution.
But Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell criticized the Democrats' decision to press ahead with a framework that allows the eventual COVID-19 relief bill to pass with a simple majority, calling it a "partisan jam".
"The new president talks a lot about unity, but his White House staff and congressional leadership are working with a different playbook," McConnell said on the Senate floor.