WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — Last week, President-elect Joe Biden unveiled his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package with $1,400 stimulus checks for most Americans. This week, the country will move one step closer to seeing that proposal become an action plan as Biden and two new Democratic senators from Georgia take office.
With Democrats in control of the presidency and Congress, you might think the plan is in a position for smooth sailing. However, not all members of Biden’s party have thrown support behind the proposal for larger direct payments.
West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin, a 10-year veteran of the Senate, indicated earlier this month he was not in favor of $2,000 in checks going out to most Americans. At one point, he told the Washington Post “absolutely not” on the idea of direct payments with that high of a financial figure that aren’t specifically targeted.
Over the last few days, Manchin has softened his tone — especially if the money is sent to people who need it.
“If you ask me, ‘What would I want to see done immediately to take care of the people that need the help?’ Make sure those people are getting it,” he told WOWK-TV‘s “Inside West Virginia Politics” program. “We have people, basically, that said, ‘I didn’t need this, I wish somebody, my neighbor, would have gotten more, they needed more than I needed.’ So all that type of stuff — and if we can get that targeted, is there a way to target it? Maybe there’s not. But we got to get more money out.”
Even if Manchin supports the measure, the process may take more time than many Democratic leaders hope. The checks are part of a complex and layered plan that includes increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, expanding paid leave for workers, and increasing tax credits for families with children.
Analysts noted that a one-off bill focusing only on stimulus checks might be passed quickly. Something totaling nearly $2 trillion may take days if not weeks of debate and discussion.
Many experts say early February would likely be the soonest we could see a package approved. While Democratic leadership is hoping to quickly pass the measure, it’s unlikely all the minor details of a major plan like this could be worked through in the last week of January.
Once approved, the U.S. Department of the Treasury could distribute checks in a matter of days. They’ve improved the processing speed substantially from the first round of $1,200 checks to the more recent $600 payment.
There is some concern that impeachment proceedings against the outgoing president could delay the process. It’s expected that Donald Trump’s trial in the Senate would begin shortly after Biden takes office. Whether it proves to be a distraction in the stimulus process remains to be seen.
The coronavirus relief plan comes as a divided nation is in the grip of the pandemic’s most dangerous wave yet. So far, more than 385,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the U.S. And government numbers out Thursday reported a jump in weekly unemployment claims to 965,000, a sign that rising infections are forcing businesses to cut back and lay off workers.
Under Biden’s multipronged strategy, about $400 billion would go directly to combating the pandemic, while the rest is focused on economic relief and aid to states and localities.
About $20 billion would be allocated for a more disciplined focus on vaccination, on top of some $8 billion already approved by Congress. Biden has called for setting up mass vaccination centers and sending mobile units to hard-to-reach areas.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.