Dems propose $1,400 payments as part of Biden virus relief

(AP) — Democrats on a pivotal House panel on Monday proposed an additional $1,400 in direct payments to individuals as Congress began piecing together a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package that largely follows President Joe Biden’s proposal for battling the pandemic and reviving a still staggering economy.

The proposal by the Ways and Means Committee, which plans to vote on its measure by week’s end, would expand tax credits for families with children, for lower-earning people and for Americans who buy health insurance on marketplaces created by former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. It would also provide health care subsidies for some unemployed workers.

Less than three weeks into his presidency, Biden has declared that defeating the virus and fixing the economy are his top priorities. The coronavirus pandemic has killed over 460,000 Americans while the economy has lost 10 million jobs since the crisis began last year.

Monday’s unveiling by Ways and Means of its piece of the package — at over $900 billion, nearly half of Biden’s entire plan — came with Congress’ Democratic leaders hoping to rush the legislation to the president for his signature by mid-March, when previously provided emergency unemployment benefits expire. Their schedule reflects a desire by Biden and congressional Democrats to show they can respond swiftly and decisively to the crisis, even if as seems likely they must do so over solid Republican opposition.

“While it is still our hope that Republicans will join us in doing right by the American people, the urgency of the moment demands that we act without further delay,” said Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass.

The House Education and Labor Committee also previewed its plans Monday, a roughly $350 billion package that includes $130 billion to help schools reopen safely, $40 billion for colleges battered by the pandemic and a plan to gradually raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Democrats have only narrow majorities in both chambers. Besides Republican opposition that could be unanimous, Democrats will have to satisfy party members who worry about a package that goes too far and progressives eager to push Biden and the party as far leftward as they can.

In one area that could become a battleground within the party, the Ways and Means Democrats proposed limiting the full $1,400 relief payments to individuals making $75,000 or less, and phasing them out until they end completely at $100,000. Couples who make $150,000 or less would be entitled to $2,800 relief payments, which would gradually diminish and fully disappear for those earning $200,000.