Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) blocked initial attempts by Democrats in the Senate on Tuesday to hold a vote on increasing coronavirus stimulus check payments to Americans from $600 to $2,000, halting for the time being a bill that has already been passed in the House of Representatives.
As part of a bill that passed earlier this month addressing the economic hardships many are dealing with as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, payments of $600 were planned to be sent to every eligible adult in the country, plus $600 per dependent child, up to certain income levels earned by individuals and couples. The $600 figure was the result of months of negotiations between Democrats and Republicans, with members of the latter party wanting a lower amount due to concerns about deficits.
President Donald Trump, however, called the dollar figure a “disgrace,” and demanded the amount be increased to $2,000 last week, threatening the possibility of vetoing the bill if it wasn’t changed. He was later persuaded to sign the bill with the $600 figure to ensure Americans would receive at least that amount, but urged Congress to pass a new bill for him to sign that would increase the payments.
Democrats were fast to agree to the increase, and passed a bill in the House doing so. Up until Tuesday, McConnell had not indicated his position on the bill.
A number of Republicans in the Senate have said they would support the measure if brought up for a vote, including Georgia Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue.
Alongside those two senators, at least four other Republicans — Senators Marco Rubio (R-Florida), Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), Deb Fischer (R-Nebraska), and the bill’s co-sponsor, Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) — have also said they’d vote in favor of the bill if it’s put up for a vote. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) has said that every member of the Democratic Party caucus would support it, too.
Yet McConnell’s actions on Tuesday indicated he did not want the bill to move forward. His words also insinuated that he wanted other issues to be considered alongside the bill, including huge restrictions on internet tech companies that Trump has called for, as well as investigations into unsubstantiated claims of election fraud in last month’s elections.
“Those are the three important subjects the President has linked together,” McConnell said. “This week, the Senate will begin a process to bring these three priorities into focus.”
Schumer made the request for the bill to be passed during a session of the Senate on Tuesday. McConnell objected to that request, according to reporting from Politico’s Burgess Everett.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) then requested the House bill be considered following a veto override vote on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that was scheduled for Wednesday. McConnell also objected to that request as well.
Sanders has promised to object to passage of the NDAA, using parliamentary procedure, if the House bill to increase stimulus payments is not given a proper vote. The Vermont senator noted that Republicans concerned with the costs of $2,000 payments to most Americans were being hypocritical, due to the costs of the NDAA being much higher.
“We have just passed the largest military budget in the history of our country. $740 billion,” Sanders said on the Senate floor on Tuesday.
According to the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, the increase in stimulus payments to $2,000 would cost around $464 billion to fund, or close to $276 billion less than what the NDAA would cost. Sanders pointed out in his statement that “there was almost no debate about the size” of the NDAA’s costs, and that Trump’s veto of that bill had to do with “other issues.”