Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia said Wednesday that stimulus checks of between $500 and $1,200 may be included in the final COVID-19 relief package expected this week.
The idea is supported by Republicans leaders in the House and Senate and President Trump, as well as by left-wing Democrats in both chambers. It previously has been supported in principle by Democratic leaders as well.
Manchin is one of the authors of a $908 billion bipartisan proposal that doesn’t recommend direct checks, but he said he believes they may land in the final bill.
“I’m understanding that it could be maybe some direct payments in lieu of state and local [aid],” Manchin said on CNN.
The centrist Democrat spoke after the four party leaders in the House and Senate met Tuesday ahead of a midnight Friday deadline to pass legislation that prevents a partial government shutdown before Christmas.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said afterward they were hopeful a deal would be reached.
“We’re making significant progress and I’m optimistic that we’re gonna be able to complete an understanding sometime soon,” McConnell said around 10 pm Tuesday.
“Tomorrow we’ll be back early and we’ll be on schedule to get the job done,” Pelosi said.
Democrats and Republicans have been at an impasse for months over coronavirus relief. Republicans want liability protections for businesses, which Democrats largely oppose, while Democrats want substantial aid for state and local governments, which Republicans view as a potential bailout for unrelated budgetary woes.
Manchin’s bipartisan proposal suggested putting less controversial items in one vote, then packaging liability reform and state and local aid in a more contentious package.
The White House has floated removing a proposed $300 weekly unemployment insurance supplement from legislation in exchange for the direct checks.
“It wouldn’t be more than $1,200, but I think it’ll be in the $600 — probably five or six hundred — dollar range to try to help through this most difficult times. That would be my guess,” Manchin told CNN.
He quickly added: “I have no knowledge of this whatsoever. I’m telling you I think and this is that conversations we’ve been hearing for the last day or so. They’re looking for a pathway forward, that might have been a pathway.”
The direct checks likely would be means tested, as they were in March, with individuals who earn higher wages getting less money and people earning more than $95,000 getting nothing.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a socialist who caucuses with Democrats, and Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri threatened last week to keep Congress in session through Christmas to force their colleagues to pass another round of direct checks. Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus in the House, meanwhile, are discussing voting against any bill without checks.
Democratic leaders endorsed the $908 billion bipartisan proposal after dropping months-long insistence on a deal costing between $2.4 trillion and $3.4 trillion, including up to $1 trillion for state and local governments.
The $908 billion proposal, which remains the most broadly supported package, would partially revive at $300 per week a federal unemployment supplement, down from $600 a week before it expired, and would add $288 billion in new small-business Paycheck Protection Program forgivable loans.
The bipartisan plan also calls for $45 billion for airlines and struggling mass transit systems, $16 billion for COVID-19 testing and vaccine distribution, $82 billion for schools, $10 billion for the US Postal Service and $5 billion for opioid addiction treatment. It would create a new $25 billion rental assistance program and fund $10 billion for childcare programs and $26 billion for nutrition and agricultural relief, according to a fact sheet.