WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden said on Tuesday (Feb 9) he agreed with a proposal by Democratic lawmakers that would limit or phase out stimulus payments to higher-income individuals as part of his US$1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill.
Asked during a meeting with business leaders whether he supported the proposal by Democrats in Congress, which would send US$1,400 stimulus checks to Americans earning up to US$75,000 in income and households making up to US$150,000, Biden said, "Yes."
The president, speaking during a meeting with corporate leaders in the Oval Office, said he had been in touch with Republican leaders about the package.
"I think we're in a position to ... think big," he said.
Biden said he intended to discuss the economic recovery bill as well as infrastructure and the minimum wage with the chief executives of JPMorgan Chase, Walmart, Gap and Lowe's Companies.
Biden said he was anxious to get reaction from the business leaders to his administration's approach and "to see if we can find some common ground".
Congressional Democrats rolled out a plan that mirrored much of Biden’s own proposal, ignoring calls from Republicans to lower the income threshold for payments.
The latest Democratic proposal would phase out those payments at lower income thresholds than previous stimulus checks and completely cut off individuals earning more than US$100,000 and couples earning more than US$200,000.
Biden has stood firm on the size of the checks but has remained open to discussion on tweaking the income requirements. His comment on Tuesday was an indication that he agreed to those faster phaseouts.
Biden and the executives were joined by Vice President Kamala Harris and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen for the Oval Office gathering. JPMorgan's Jamie Dimon, Walmart's Doug McMillon, Gap's Sonia Syngal and Lowe's Companies' Marvin Ellison were all present, along with Tom Donohue, the head of the US Chamber of Commerce, a top business lobby.
Speaking at a briefing with reporters ahead of the meeting on Tuesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said she expected the meeting to be the first of many with the business community.
"It's more of a discussion about the country and the economic downturn that we've gone through," Psaki said. "The president wants to lay out all of the specifics of his plan, hear feedback from them as he has with many different groups over the past couple of weeks," she added.
Biden is eager to keep attention on his relief package even as Washington focuses on the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, who is accused of inciting the Jan 6 riot at the US Capitol. The meeting served as a bit of counter-programming at the White House while the trial kicked off in the US Senate.
Biden, asked about impeachment, said he was focused on his own job.
"The Senate has their job; they're about to begin it. I'm sure they're going to conduct themselves well," he said.
Despite Biden's desire to focus on unity, his stimulus package faces opposition from Republicans, who view it as too large. Biden’s fellow Democrats in Congress approved a budget outline that will allow them to muscle the stimulus through in the coming weeks without Republican support.
Democrats have a small majority in the US House of Representatives and effective control in the Senate.
Data on Friday showed US employment growth rebounded only moderately in January, and job losses in the prior month were deeper than initially thought. This strengthened the case for a sizeable relief package from the government to aid the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.