For months, lawmakers negotiated the stimulus package that passed Monday night, and though most members of Congress don’t yet know the entirety of what’s included in the over 5,000-page bill, it’s clear from the last months of tense talks that one of the most contentious points was the $600 direct payments that ended up being squeezed in very late in the game.
These checks are half the amount that the government sent to individuals in March and have been a subject of much scrutiny among many on the left who say that $600 is not nearly enough. According to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York), Democrats have pushed for $1,200 checks, but Republicans batted it down to $600. And still, they have been a sticking point for some lawmakers who think that $600 is still too much if an individual is already receiving unemployment benefits or that the government simply shouldn’t be spending to help the American people during a deadly global pandemic that has caused a recession with record unemployment levels.
All of this hand wringing and austerity has come from Republicans in the Senate who have a median net worth of $1.4 million, with much of the loudest opposition to the one-time $600 check coming from those personally worth tens of millions of dollars.
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Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin has been one such wealthy opponent of the direct relief payments, and last week twice blocked another round of checks, citing spurious deficit concerns. “I wasn’t supportive of the first round. I don’t think I’d be supportive of the second,” he said in July. “This is not a classic recession that requires financial stimulus.” His sudden concern about the deficit is charming, considering he led the charge in 2017 for special tax breaks which would net him about $205,000. Those same tax breaks, which mostly benefited wealthy individuals and corporations were funded by almost $2 trillion in added debt.
According to OpenSecrets, Johnson is worth an estimated $39.2 million.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, though not vocally against the checks, did not include them in his September “skinny bill” — but did include his pet obsession, a liability shield from COVID-related lawsuits for businesses and schools. It’s unclear when he changed his mind, though it was probably relatively recently, as The New York Times reports that he made the case for the inclusion of the checks last week, fearing that Republican opposition would hurt their chances in the Georgia Senate runoffs. McConnell is worth an estimated $34.1 million.
Speaking of the Senate runoffs, Republican Sen. David Perdue, who is up for re-election in Georgia, has been vocally against the checks. Perdue expressed direct opposition to the stimulus checks in the CARES act, saying he “personally opposed” them. Earlier this month, Perdue and fellow runoff candidate Sen. Kelly Loeffler released a joint statement with no mention of the checks, saying that they support “targeted relief,” which is just another way that Republicans have been saying that they oppose the stimulus checks. Perdue is worth an estimated $25.8 million, while Loeffler and her husband are worth a whopping $800 million, according to Forbes.
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pennsylvania) also joined the ranks of Republicans who are vocally opposed to the stimulus checks, saying, without evidence, that the “vast majority” of the checks have been sent to families that he assumes probably have not been financially hurt by the pandemic. OpenSecrets estimates Toomey is worth $2 million. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) voted against Monday’s bill saying that, “when [conservatives] vote to pass out free money, you lose your soul and you abandon forever any semblance of moral or fiscal integrity.” Paul’s estimated worth is about $774,000.
Congressional journalists have reported that the checks have divided Republicans; last week, the number two ranking Republican Sen. John Thune (R-South Dakota) suggested that some lawmakers were trying to prevent those who were receiving unemployment benefits from getting the $600 check. Despite their efforts, many polls have shown that the stimulus checks are actually quite popular among the American people. Perhaps that’s why, though there is clear opposition to helping those most in need, many Republicans have not gone on the record to oppose the payments. Many have, however, implied their opposition by broadly railing against adding to the deficit and rejecting the general idea of another stimulus.
Among Republicans who have recently railed against any additional stimulus of any size are: Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee), worth $568,000; Sen. Rick Scott (R-Florida), worth $259.7 million; Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), worth $3.2 million; and Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska), worth $2.8 million. And worth a special mention are the politicians who went on the record opposing the stimulus checks back in May, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), worth $969,000, and Sen. Mike Braun (R-Indiana), worth $136.8 million, as well as Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Alabama), who opposed stimulus payments during negotiations for the CARES Act.