Stimulus bill update today: Trump’s $2,000 checks all but dead as GOP Senate refuses aid

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s push for $2,000 COVID-19 relief checks all but died Wednesday as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell proposed an alternative approach of loading up the bill with other White House priorities that appeared destined to fail.

The roadblock set by Senate Republicans appears unsurmountable, even as pressure builds to approve the bigger checks. Trump wants the Republican-led chamber to follow the House and increase the checks from $600 for millions of Americans. A growing number of Republicans, including two senators in runoff elections on Jan. 5 in Georgia, agree. But most GOP senators oppose more spending, even if they are also wary of bucking Trump.

McConnell effectively shut the door on allowing a vote, citing concerns over the cost the upgraded stimulus would add to the national debt.

On the Senate floor Wednesday, McConnell attacked House Democrats for wanting to send a “boatload of cash” to people making six figures who aren’t in need but will likely receive some cash due to the way the payments are structured based on income.

McConnell said it doesn’t make sense to support Americans who haven’t lost income due to the pandemic, basing his argument solely on economics.

“The Senate’s not going to be bullied into rushing out more borrowed money into the hands of Democrats’ rich friends who don’t need the help,” McConnell said.

He said Congress needs to send “smart targeted aid. Not another firehose of money.”

McConnell also said he will not split the $2,000 relief payment bill from a repeal of Section 230 or the election fraud commission.

“The Senate is not going to split apart the three issues that President Trump linked together,” McConnell said, which means the bill, if the Senate does intend to vote on it, will never become law.

“Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer are trying to pull a fast one on the president and the American people,” McConnell said. “They’re hoping everyone just forgets about election integrity and (Sec. 230). They’re desperate to ignore those two parts of President Trump’s request.”

Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer again tried to unanimously pass the House standalone bill that swaps out the $600 payments for $2,000, but McConnell objected.

“At the very least the Senate deserves the opportunity for an up or down vote” on the House-passed $2,000 direct payments bill, Schumer said. He added that “there is no other game in town than the House bill,” and went on to reject McConnell’s bill that includes Trump’s three priorities.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., also tried to pass the House bill unanimously, but GOP Sen. Pat Toomey objected.

The showdown over the $2,000 checks has thrown Congress into a chaotic year-end session just days before new lawmakers are set to be sworn into office for the new year. It’s preventing action on another priority – overturning Trump’s veto on a sweeping defense bill that has been approved every year for 60 years.

Trump has berated Republican leaders for the stonewalling, finding rare common cause with the Democrats pushing them to act. Leading Republicans warned that the GOP’s refusal to provide more aid as the virus worsens will jeopardize next week’s Senate election in Georgia.

“The Senate Republicans risk throwing away two seats and control of the Senate,” said Newt Gingrich, the former congressional leader, on Fox News. He called on Senate Republicans to “get a grip and not try to play cute parliamentary games with the president’s $2,000 payment.”

“These Republicans in the Senate seem to have an endless tolerance for other people’s sadness,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.

Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said some of the $600 payments were being sent by direct deposit to Americans’ bank accounts Tuesday night. Mnuchin tweeted that paper checks will begin to go out Wednesday.

.@USTreasury has delivered a payment file to the @FederalReserve for Americans’ Economic Impact Payments. These payments may begin to arrive in some accounts by direct deposit as early as tonight and will continue into next week (1/2)

— Steven Mnuchin (@stevenmnuchin1) December 29, 2020

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Trump’s push could fizzle out in the Senate but the debate over the size and scope of the year-end package – $900 billion in COVID-19 aid and $1.4 trillion to fund government agencies through September – is potentially one last confrontation before the new Congress is sworn in Sunday.

The COVID-19 portion of the bill revives a weekly pandemic jobless benefit boost – this time $300, through March 14 – as well as the popular Paycheck Protection Program of grants to businesses to keep workers on payrolls. It extends eviction protections, adding a new rental assistance fund.

Americans earning up to $75,000 will qualify for the direct $600 payments, which are phased out at higher income levels, and there’s an additional $600 payment per dependent child.

Copyright © 2020 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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