This is my update for Friday, February 12th. Anonymous sources claim that Senate Democrats are considering bypassing committees altogether and bringing the relief bill directly to the Senate floor for a yes or no vote. So House committees have been marking up this bill all week, that’s basically what we’ve been expecting to happen in the Senate, but there’s also a chance that the Senate will skip that step in favor of passing the stimulus as quickly as possible.
That’s one of the top priorities on the Democratic side, they know Americans are about to hit the end of federal unemployment in mid-March, and the last thing they want is to still have the bill going through various committees while people are losing their benefits. So if the House votes to pass the relief bill on February 22nd, Pelosi and Schumer might go over any major issues to make some final adjustments, and then Schumer may bring it to the floor as quickly as possible for a majority vote. Of course, bypassing committees comes with risks of its own, that means the rest of the Senate doesn’t get a chance to work on the bill or make their own changes, which could make it harder to secure 50 votes.
But if they can get people onboard then they could save a week or two by going around the usual committee process and trying to push this through as quickly as possible. If you saw my update yesterday then you know the stimulus bill is making its way through committees in the House, and Ways and Means chairman Richard Neal released his committee’s markup last night. Ways and Means has the largest section of the bill, roughly half of the total budget, and they’re responsible for two critical forms of aid in the stimulus checks and federal unemployment supplement. Neal echoed Biden in his opening statement, he said “if we don’t act now, we could put 4 million jobs in jeopardy this year. Potentially pushing full employment even further out into next year.
Confronted by these sobering realities, we have been left no choice but to move forward with the budget reconciliation process to move relief legislation through the process and quickly get relief to the American people. So long as lives and livelihoods are at stake, we are called to action.” So as you know two of the key provisions that they’ve been working on are the stimulus checks and unemployment benefits, they want a third round of stimulus checks, this round for fourteen hundred dollars as you know, and they want to bump that federal unemployment boost up to four hundred dollars a week as opposed to the three hundred a week it is currently.
Obviously stimulus check eligibility has been one of the major questions about this next relief bill, and at this point there’s no way to predict what that will look like in the final version. But the Ways and Means committee markup allocates full checks to single filers with annual incomes up to $75,000 and joint filers who earn up to $150,000, which aligns with what we saw in the first two rounds of payments.
The phase-out plan is slightly different, single filers with incomes over $75,000 gradually getting smaller checks up to an income of $100,000, so if your income is at or above $100,000 as a single filer then you wouldn’t receive anything under their plan. And similarly, payments for joint filers would phase out from $150,000 to $200,000 under their plan. Ultimately this is something of a minor change, but it does certainly affect those who are slightly above those income limits who have many dependents.
If you want to see me run the numbers on the House Ways and Means’ committee stimulus check income limitation language, see my update that I posted three days ago on February 9 for a walkthrough on that, I bust out my spreadsheet and walk through it.
There are a few other important points I want to touch on, one is the expansion of the Child Tax Credit from $2,000 to $3,000 per child, or $3,600 for children under 6, this is something that Joe Biden originally proposed in his stimulus plan released in January.
The current Child Tax Credit is only refundable for up to $1,400, and the committee wants to make it fully refundable and advancable, so you could get that $3,000 or $3,600 as a direct payment. Another provision would build on the existing Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit to let families claim up to half of childcare expenses as tax deductible. They also want to expand eligibility for the Earned Income Tax Credit from people over 25 to people over 19, along with substantially increasing the maximum credit for those who are eligible.
The committee included a few additional provisions related to healthcare including COBRA subsidies through the end of the fiscal year and additional subsidies for unemployed workers who aren’t currently eligible for coverage under COBRA. And they want to reduce healthcare costs for low- and middle-income families by offering more premium tax credits in 2021 and 2022 under the Affordable Care Act.
Now that the relief bill has made it through the relevant House committees, it will be up to the Budget committee to take over from there, bring their separate pieces back into a single bill, and then send it to the Rules committee who will get it ready for a floor vote, which again will probably be sometime in the last week of February.
So at this point we’ve seen what they want to do, obviously there’s still time for specific provisions to change by the time this reaches Biden’s desk, but some of what I’ve covered over the last few days will make it into the final package, and there’s a chance that the Senate committees won’t even get a chance to mark up this bill themselves.