Most Democrats support keeping monthly checks for parents, but Senate centrists could scale back its generosity.
One Democrat said he wanted fewer households with six-figure incomes getting the stimulus benefit.
The one-year cash payments for families are set to start next month, but it’s unclear whether they’ll be permanent.
A strong majority of Democrats in the House and Senate back making permanent a one-year cash benefit from President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus: up to $300 monthly checks to the vast majority of American families.
The $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package passed in March increased the child tax credit’s amount to $3,600 per child age 5 and under, and $3,000 for every kid between 6 and 17. Individuals earning below $75,000 and couples making under $150,000 qualify for the full check.
The roster of supporters in the Senate includes Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and influential committee chairs like Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
Schumer described it as “one of the most important things we can do.” Yet the policy is likely to collide into headwinds in an evenly divided Senate where Schumer’s party holds a delicate majority. It could prompt an intraparty clash on the cash benefit’s generosity at a moment they must stay united to make it permanent.
As bipartisan talks crawl into their second month, Democrats are preparing to approve Biden’s infrastructure package without any Republicans, using the fast-track reconciliation process that only requires 51 votes.
Only 41 Senate Democrats signed onto a letter in late March urging Biden to transform the benefit into a permanent allowance, which didn’t include the prominent centrists Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Biden’s two-part economic plans contained an extension of the revamped child tax credit until 2025 – and there are major hurdles to making it permanent.
“I do think sticker price is the main challenge,” Seth Hanlon, a tax expert at the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress, told Insider. “On the monthly payments, there are things to be worked out there. I think those are doable.”
The one-year expansion in Biden’s stimulus carried a price tag of $110 billion, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation. Making it permanent could enlarge its cost to over $1 trillion.
‘Not a prudent use of taxpayers’ money’
A number of centrist Democrats flexed their political muscle in March, successfully pushing Biden to cut the amount of higher-income people eligible for a $1,400 stimulus check in the coronavirus relief law. In a 50-50 Senate, every Democratic senator carries enormous influence in being able to force changes or derail legislation.
It’s possible that moderate Democrats could throw their weight around once again if they try to pass Biden’s economic plans using reconciliation, which allows them to avoid the 60-vote threshold known as the filibuster. Some are already raising early concerns about the structure and scale of a permanent benefit going forward.
“It doesn’t phase out fast enough,” Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine who caucuses with Democrats, said in an interview. “It strikes me that a credit for somebody making three or four hundred thousand dollars – to me, it’s not a prudent use of the taxpayers’ money.”
King said he was undecided on the measure and also cited the cost. He added he was being briefed on the issue this week.
Others echoed the Maine senator. Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware said he still hadn’t made up his mind. “I was a big supporter of enlarging it and extending it,” he told Insider, referring to bulking up the credit. “I thought it was the right thing to do as part of a package in a pandemic and I’m open to it, but I’ve not come to any conclusions.”
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire told Insider she was cautiously supportive, but conditioned it on certain factors. “It depends on the income level of the household, how it’s distributed to them, a whole range of things,” Shaheen said, adding she wanted more information about the impact of monthly government payments.
Sen. Jon Tester of Montana told Insider that permanently expanding the benefit “has merit.” A spokesperson for his office later said: “Senator Tester supports making it permanent but thinks there has to be a discussion about the best way to do that.”
‘We’re working all the time’
Top Democrats say they are doubling down in their efforts to win over their reluctant colleagues. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a chief backer, told Insider that “we’re working all the time.”
“Just because someone doesn’t sign a letter doesn’t mean they aren’t supportive,” he said, referring to the one sent to Biden in March. “The reluctance is all about cost. There is nothing but support for this among my colleagues about the child tax credit.”
Other Democrats could still get onboard. A spokesperson for Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire on Wednesday said the senator does want to permanently beef up the child tax credit. (Hassan did not sign onto the March letter.)
However, it remains unclear on which side Manchin will fall. His office declined to comment. Sinema’s office did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.
Sen. Michael Bennet, another architect of the original bill underpinning the child benefit, said he had spoken to Manchin about the measure but didn’t offer specifics beyond that. He stressed the distribution of the cash payments this year could increase support for the measure.
“It’s going to be an amazing moment in modern America where people actually see themselves and their families benefiting dramatically from something that we’ve done in Washington DC,” Bennet said in an interview. “It’s going to make a huge difference to people.”
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