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Fiscal conservatism: Biden agrees to cap $1,400 stimulus checks based on income

Weird but true: In three months we’ve gone from a Republican president demanding $2,000 stimulus checks to a Democratic president accepting income limits on $1,400 ones. Realignment fever — catch it.

I can’t decide whether the “fiscal conservatism” thing in the headline is a joke or not. By the standards of COVID mega-spending, a $1.9 trillion package with modest income caps on assistance payments counts as “conservative,” no?

Note this is the second time Dems have tightened the income requirements on the forthcoming stimulus checks. Initially payments were supposed to phase out starting at $100,000 in annual income for individuals and $200,000 for married couples, but last month House Dems tweaked that so that the phase-out would begin at $75,000 and $150,000, respectively, with caps of $100,000 and $200,000. The White House has now agreed to tweak that again by lowering the caps further, a small concession to the fiscal reality that we’ll be paying for our COVID bailouts for generations to come.

The phase-out levels for the $1,400 stimulus checks are:

$75,000 in income for single filers; the cap for receiving some payment is now $80,000
$112,500 for heads of households; the cap is now $120,000
$150,000 for joint filers; now capped at $160,000

The structure would slash the direct payment income caps approved by the House. Under the lower chamber’s bill, individuals making up to $100,000 (and joint filers earning up to $200,000) would have received some amount.

That’s a victory of sorts for progressives in that Joe Manchin initially wanted checks to begin phasing out at $40-50,000 in annual income for individuals. The plan right now is to also hold federal unemployment benefits steady at $400 per week through August, which is a bit higher than the $300 Manchin wants. I wonder if Biden and Schumer have already cleared these terms with him or if they’re planning on simply calling his bluff and daring him to vote no. If the latter, I can understand their logic: Thanks largely to the stimulus checks, the Dems’ COVID relief package is very popular with voters.

Even when you emphasize that the bill is a Democrat-only production, a supermajority of voters overall and a majority of Republicans continue to support it. A separate poll from YouGov also finds strong support for some of the bill’s more progressive planks, including majority Republican support for $1,400 checks:

All of those provisions are over 40 percent among GOPers and all are 69 percent or better across the total population. To round things off, one more data point from Monmouth:

Does Manchin dare vote no? C’mon.

It’s unimaginable to me that the GOP won’t increase its share of House and Senate seats in 2022, as that’s simply what the laws of political gravity require in a midterm when a Democrat is president. But a double whammy in which the pandemic ends soon-ish thanks to the White House’s effort to ramp up vaccinations and Democrats get to claim sole credit for passing a highly popular COVID rescue package would test that theory of gravity. Maybe it wouldn’t be the worst thing for the party for Lisa Murkowski to cross the aisle on this one, just so that Republicans can technically claim that support for the bill was bipartisan:

An interesting question now: Can the new income caps thread the needle between centrist Dems and progressives? Ten days ago, left-winger Pramila Jayapal warned that the income limits in the House bill shouldn’t be altered any further, treating them as a bare minimum. Biden has now called her bluff by agreeing to alter them. It’s strange to imagine a progressive like Jayapal going to bat for taxpayers who earn $80-100,000 per year but the logic of her position may require it. Meanwhile, centrist Dems representing more upscale suburban districts may be unhappy to see some of their constituents suddenly phased out from any money by Biden’s new move:

https://twitter.com/gelliottmorris/status/1367160523243081731

To complicate things further, nationalist Republicans are attacking Democrats for being too stingy with the payments now, opting to phase out middle-class people on stimulus checks instead of cutting elsewhere in the bill:

Realignment fever — catch it. Exit question: Are Joe Manchin’s blue-collar constituents in West Virginia really all that concerned about income caps on stimulus checks? If Congress ending this haggle over income limits gets their checks to them faster, wouldn’t they prefer that to dragging out negotiations?