ON THE RECORD: Sen. Tammy Duckworth says the American Rescue Plan will be passed before unemployment benefits run out

On The Record

WASHINGTON D.C. (WMBD) — Will additional unemployment benefits run out in mere weeks and when will Americans see another round of stimulus checks?

Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) said the American Rescue Plan could be approved by this week or the next.

Duckworth joined Matt Sheehan for On the Record Thursday afternoon to discuss where the bill now stands.

The American Rescue Plan has passed the House, but debate shows the Senate bill is set to look much different.

President Joe Biden and Democrats agreed Wednesday to tighten the upper-income limits at which people could qualify for stimulus checks, a Democratic official said, a major concession to moderates as party leaders prepared to move their $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill through the Senate.

The COVID-19 relief measure Senate Democrats planned to unveil will also retain the $400 weekly emergency jobless benefits that were included in a House-approved version of the legislation, the official said. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal Democratic conversations.

The changes came with Republicans, who may unanimously oppose the legislation, lashing the bill as an overpriced Democratic wish list that lavishes help on many who don’t really need it.

Sheehan asked Duckworth Thursday afternoon where the Senate is leaning on passing the bill.

“We are projected to pass it, we could have a vote on it today (Thursday), but unfortunately Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin is trying to delay it as long as possible,” Duckworth said. Her comment about Johnson (R-WI) did end up happening, causing the entire 628-page bill to be read out loud on the Senate floor.

“He is executing a lot of legislative tricks. It used to be that you could just call it up for a vote, but he’s requiring that the entire plan be read out long which would take 10 hours. Then there will be a whole series of attempts to waylay it. We still expect to pass it within the week. If you received $1,200 under the CARES act a year ago, you will get $1,400 in payments under the American Rescue Plan,” Duckworth added.

Many Americans’ additional unemployment benefits will run out on Sunday, March 14 if a bill isn’t passed. Duckworth said lawmakers are working on passing the legislation before Sunday.

“The goal is to get it done by then, absolutely. I don’t want people’s unemployment benefits to run out. If you’re on unemployment benefits right now, you’re barely making it. You’re probably not making it, you’re probably falling behind every month. As soon as we can get the money to you to help you get on your feet, that will help not just you and your family and our working families but it will help the country,” Duckwoth said.

Duckworth cited Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen as a major reason why she supports passing the American Rescue Plan.

“Janet Yellen said we need to get this money out ASAP because the country is facing a multi-year recession if we don’t pass this American Rescue Plan right away,” she stated.

The Senate Parliamentarian said the minimum wage increase would violate budget rules and shouldn’t be included in this package. Sen. Bernie Sander (I-VT) said the Senate should ignore the parliamentarian. Duckworth called Sanders’ minimum wage plan “reasonable” and that she supports the minimum wage increase.

“I think Bernie Sander’s plan is 5 years to get there to $15,” Duckworth said. “I don’t want anything to slow down the American Rescue Plan. That’s my only concern. I want to get the $1,400 payments into people’s pockets and I want to get the money into municipal budgets as well. There’s over $150 billion to be divided between cities and counties. We need to get that money into the local budgets. The last time I spoke with Mayor Ardis he said he was looking at having to lay off firefighters in Peoria. I want to make sure we can get this money into the city’s budgets so you don’t have to do that.”

As part of Democrats’ legislative thrust on what is Biden’s top initial legislative priority, individuals earning up to $75,000 — and couples up to $150,000 — would get $1,400 checks per person.

The version the House approved last Saturday would gradually phase down those amounts and reach zero for individuals making $100,000 and couples earning $200,000.

Under Wednesday’s agreement, those checks would end for individuals making $80,000 and couples earning $160,000, the official said.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), a centrist Democrat, told reporters: “I’m very pleased with the discussions and dialogues and some changes that have been agreed upon.”

The compromise would mean about 9 million fewer households would get direct payments than did so in the last round of stimulus.

Biden and party leaders stood firm and will retain the $400 weekly emergency jobless benefits, which are paid on top of regular state payments. Moderates have wanted to trim those payments to $300 per week, with some saying the higher amount could discourage people from returning to their jobs.

Duckworth said once Senate leaders pass their own version of the bill, it would be sent back to the House to be voted on. President Joe Biden would then sign it into law.

“It would be a matter of hours,” Duckworth said. “The goal among Democrats is to get it out the door this week, at the very latest next week.”

If this bill is passed, it’ll be the third time millions of Americans get a stimulus check.

Duckworth said don’t count on this becoming a regular occurrence in the future.

“I think this is an emergency, a dire national economic emergency. What convinced me to support it is Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said if we don’t pass $1,400 for Americans then what’s gonna happen is a multiple-year recession that’ll cost the country much more than the cost of this bill itself. I’m trying to forestall future economic hardship by getting stimulus out to people so you can pay your bills, put food on the table, and lets get the economy moving again,” Duckworth said.

Months ago, Sheehan & Duckworth discussed student loan debt and what the senator’s thoughts on canceling debt were. Some Senate Democrats called for $50,000 worth to be canceled. President Biden said during his town hall on CNN he would not support that idea, getting flack from some Democratic lawmakers.

“I think we need to do something to eliminate student loan debt,” Duckworth said. “I think the $50,000 amount would actually get rid of 80% of the student loan debt in this country. That would be an enormous boost to our economy. All of those people and they’re not just young people, I didn’t pay off my student loan debt until I was 50-years-old. People have this over their heads for their entire lifetime.”

Duckworth said if Americans are not paying student loan debt, they can “finally afford to buy a house and put money back into our local economies.” She said there are more ways to cancel student debt than just wiping it away clean.

“It could be alternative ways for people to be able to pay it off, frankly there’s more student loan debt owed in this country than there is credit card debt. That is hampering our economy,” Duckworth said.

Thursday saw heightened security at the nation’s capital based on a conspiracy theory that former President Donald Trump would regain power on March 4. While Duckworth said it was a sad day, she felt protected by Capitol police and National Guardsmen on Thursday.

“We saw from the videos on Jan. 6 how heroic our Capitol police officers, as well as the D.C. Metropolitan officers and the National Guard, were. We have a lot of National Guardsmen, over 200 Illinois National Guardsmen are here right now. I just met with them a couple of days ago. So I do feel that I am in safe hands, but it does make me really sad. Because the Capitol right now is surrounded by huge fences and barbed wire and being patrolled by armed guardsmen. That’s not the Capitol of the United States of America. We are a beacon for democracy for the world. We need to get past this so we can open the People’s house to the people again with full-knowledge and full trust that there’s not gonna be bad actors to come in here and smash the Capitol and steal items of historic value and threaten the lives of our historic Capitol police officers,” Duckworth said.

Future schedule of On the Record:

18th District Congressional candidate Michael Swanson (D-IL)

Nexstar Media Wire contributed to this story.

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