The $600 question: Why Joe Biden is in hot water over coronavirus stimulus cheques

Shortfall in stimulus cheques sparks #BidenLied hashtag

epa08974021 US President Joe Biden is escorted by the Director of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Colonel Andrew Barr (R) on a tour of a COVID-19 vaccination center at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, USA, 29 January 2021.  President Biden is to visit with wounded service members.  EPA/SHAWN THEW
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Eleven days after US President Joe Biden took office, he is being criticised by the left flank of his party for backtracking on a Covid-19 campaign promise to distribute $2,000 stimulus cheques to middle and low-income US citizens.

The debate gained further social media attention on Sunday when the hashtag #BidenLied began trending on Twitter after a tweet from the Democratic National Committee.

The committee promoted Mr Biden’s stimulus proposal to send $1,400 in stimulus cheques, noting that the overall total comes to $2,000 because Congress had already appropriated $600 payments in December.

Here’s what you need to know.

What did Biden promise?

During the Georgia Senate run-offs in January, Mr Biden and his fellow Democrats repeatedly promised to distribute $2,000 stimulus cheques, which secured the party’s slim majority in Congress.

While campaigning on behalf of Democratic senators in Georgia, Mr Biden promised that “those $2,000 cheques will go out the door” should voters elect Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock to Congress.

What went wrong?

When Mr Biden unveiled his economic stimulus plan one week before taking office, the proposed legislative package only included $1,400 cheques.

The White House and the DNC said the $1,400 cheques, on top of the previous $600 cheques, amount to fulfilling the party’s promise to deliver $2,000.

Progressive Democrat Congress members, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Cori Bush, rejected this.

Congress agreed to the initial $600 cheques, which most Americans received in early January.

Although former president Donald Trump threw a last-minute wrench in the negotiations by insisting that the cheques total $2,000, Republicans in Congress refused to revise the legislation.

Why did Congress give only $600 in December?

Republicans said repeated Covid-19 stimulus packages could worsen the $3tn US deficit, spurred in part by the initial round of $1,200 stimulus cheques delivered in April 2020.

The Congressional Budget Office projects that the Republican-led tax cuts passed under Mr Trump will add another $1.9tn to the rocketing deficit by 2027.

Fauci: Political divisions in US 'destructive' to Covid-19 response

Fauci: Political divisions in US 'destructive' to Covid-19 response

Mr Trump ultimately caved to his party’s resistance and approved the $600 cheques, providing the Democrats with a compelling campaign message during the Georgia Senate run-offs to deliver $2,000 cheques.

The Senate is split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, with Vice President Kamala Harris having the tie-breaking vote.

And Mr Biden released his economic stimulus proposal after Joe Manchin, a Democratic senator from West Virginia, indicated that he would not support a round of $2,000 cheques.

What else is the Biden administration offering those hit by the pandemic?

Despite all the furore over the one-off cheques, Mr Biden’s proposed stimulus legislation contains other provisions favoured by the progressive wing of his party.

The proposal would extend emergency unemployment insurance through mid-September and includes a supplement of $400 a week.

It would also raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, provide up to 14 weeks of paid sick leave for some citizens and increase tax credits for parents.

It also calls for $170 billion in funding to help schools reopen, $440bn to help states and localities and $160bn to fund a national vaccination programme.