Early Saturday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill that included $1,400 direct payments to millions of Americans and extended federal unemployment benefits for others.
The package now heads to the Senate, which will take up the bill this week and could schedule a vote by the end of the week.
However, before that can happen, there will be amendments to consider and the issue of the federal minimum wage to deal with.
A plan to increase the federal minimum wage was included in the House version of the bill, but, according to a ruling by the Senate parliamentarian, that provision cannot be in the Senate’s version of the bill.
Because Democrats have a slim majority in the House and the Senate is split 50-50, Democrats decided to try to pass a stimulus package using a process known as reconciliation.
While the reconciliation process allows legislation to pass with a simple majority vote, it also imposes strict rules on what can be included in such bills.
For the current stimulus bill, the Senate parliamentarian decided the proposed increase in the federal minimum wage did not fit the criteria of the reconciliation process.
The Senate now has to take that provision out of the bill before it is sent back to the House for another vote there.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, pledged last week that even if the Senate drops the minimum wage increase from the bill, the House will “absolutely” pass the legislation sent to the House and send it to President Joe Biden to sign.
“The sooner we pass the bill and it is signed, the sooner we can make the progress that this legislation is all about — saving the lives and the livelihood of the American people,” Pelosi said at a news conference Friday.
House Republicans were not so eager to see the massive spending bill passed.
“This isn’t a relief bill. It takes care of Democrats’ political allies while it fails to deliver for American families,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, said. “We already know what is the best stimulus plan out there: It is to fully reopen our economy. To do that, we need our economy to go back to work, back to school and back to health.”
The bill could face a tough time in the Senate, where the 50-50 split means every Democrat must vote for the bill, and have Vice President Kamala Harris cast the tiebreaking vote.
So, when might the bill pass?
The Democrats have said that their goal is to pass the legislation before March 14, because federal unemployment benefits run out on that day.
To meet that goal, the Senate would have to vote for the legislation by the end of this week or very early into next week, then the House would have to vote on the legislation quickly after that to send a bill to the president for him to sign into law.
When would direct payments go out?
According to the way the Internal Revenue Service handled distribution of the $600 direct payments sent out in December, Americans could see stimulus checks deposited in bank accounts within a few days after Biden signs the bill. Paper checks or debit cards would likely take a couple of weeks to show up in mailboxes.
Who would get the checks?
The House bill kept the same eligibility criteria used for the December stimulus payments. If you qualified for the $600 payment in December, then you will qualify for the $1,400 payment in March.
However, the Senate could make an amendment to the bill that calls for sending checks only to those who have a lower income level.
If the Senate does include that provision in the bill it sends back to the House, the House can either accept the new income eligibility level, or negotiate with the Senate on a new income level.
As it stands now, individuals who make $75,000 or less will get the $1,400 payment, and couples who make $150,000 and below are eligible for the full $2,800 payment. Dependents will also get the payments.
The income levels are adjusted gross income (AGI) levels. You can find that number on your tax return.
Payments would decline for incomes above those thresholds.