Joe Biden signalled for the first time that he was willing to make concessions on his $1.9tn economic relief package, saying that he was open to lowering the income threshold for another round of stimulus cheques.
The US president suggested on Monday that his administration might be willing to meet centrist lawmakers’ demands to reduce the $1.9tn pricetag of the White House plan, which is the new administration’s top legislative priority.
One way to shrink the cost of the bill would be to make $1,400 payments to individuals — the centrepiece of the package — accessible to fewer higher-income Americans. As it stands, Americans earning up to $75,000 per year are eligible for the payments, which are gradually reduced the more recipients make.
“There is legitimate reason for people to say, ‘Do you have the lines drawn the exact right way? Should it go to anybody making over X number of dollars?’ I’m open to negotiate those things,” Mr Biden said.
The White House has been ramping up its talks with lawmakers in recent days as Democrats push for an agreement before opening arguments in the Senate’s impeachment trial against Donald Trump on February 9.
On Sunday, Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council, met with a group of mostly moderate Republican and Democratic lawmakers who have argued for the White House to narrow the scope of the fiscal plan to facilitate a deal.
Some Republicans are also urging the White House to drop its insistence that a $15-per-hour federal minimum wage should be part of the deal.
Democrats have said that if they cannot reach an agreement on a bipartisan basis, they would be willing to resort to a parliamentary procedure called “budget reconciliation” to approve the bill on a simple majority party-line vote.
But even that would require some compromise, given the presence of some fiscally conservative Democrats in the upper chamber of Congress, including Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said on Monday that the need to reach a relief deal was crucial in part because the impact of a $900bn package passed in December would begin to fade in March with the expiration of federal unemployment benefits.
“There’s urgency to the American people for this package to move forward because we are going to hit a cliff . . . in March, where millions of people won’t be able to have access to unemployment insurance. We're going to hit a point where we won’t have enough funding for vaccine distribution,” Ms Psaki said.