Key Democratic U.S. senator says further COVID-19 payments must be targeted

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) arrives for a vote on overriding the veto on the National Defense Authorization Act on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 1, 2021. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Any more direct payments to help Americans cope with the COVID-19 pandemic must be targeted, Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin said on Friday, offering a glimpse into the path Democrats must navigate to pass possible further stimulus checks.

President-elect Joe Biden has pledged $2,000 payments to help families battered by the novel coronavirus outbreak and the economic fallout, reiterating the call for more aid in remarks to reporters on Friday.

โ€œIf the next round of stimulus checks goes out, they should be targeted to those who need it,โ€ Manchin said in a post on Twitter.

His comments followed remarks to the Washington Post earlier on Friday expressing doubts about sweeping payments, later telling the news outlet that he could back more checks if they only went to those who really needed them. Vaccines, he added, should be top priority.

Democrats will control both chambers of Congress after winning two Senate seats in Georgia this week and will take back the White House when Biden takes office Jan. 20. But their narrow margins in the Congress, particularly the Senate, will make the voices of moderates like Manchin, from conservative West Virginia, key.

The new Senate chamber will be split 50-50 with Republicans. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris can impose the Democratsโ€™ position, but only when the votes are tied.

U.S. lawmakers approved $600 payments last month as part of a larger legislative package to address the novel coronavirus pandemic, in a compromise between the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives and the Republican-controlled Senate.

Democrats argued that was not enough for those hit hardest by COVID-19 and vowed to pass more aid as soon as possible.

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