Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday blocked an attempt by Senate Minority Chairman Chuck Schumer to unanimously pass a law to increase the direct payments under the coronavirus aid package to $ 2,000 by the end of the year.
The Kentucky Republican is under pressure to act after the House – with nearly all Democrats and a few dozen Republicans on board – voted Monday to increase cash deposits from $ 600 to $ 2,000. Now Senate Republicans, who want to stop spending on pandemic aid, must decide how to deal with a vote on a bill backed by President Donald Trump and the Democrats if they try to hold onto their majority.
McConnell brought the chamber back this week with a primary objective: to overturn Trump's veto of the annual National Defense Authorization Act. He's not yet committed to putting the $ 2,000 payment bill to the vote, and it's now unclear how one would take shape.
Still, the Democrats tried to use the limited tools at their disposal to force a vote. McConnell spoke in the Senate Tuesday afternoon and said he planned to hold a vote on the veto override on Wednesday.
He outlined three priorities Trump wanted to address when he signed the Coronavirus Ease and Government Spending Act on Sunday: larger direct payments, protection of legal liability under Section 230 for internet platforms, and unfounded concerns about widespread electoral fraud. Without going into any concrete plans, he said, "This week the Senate will launch a process to bring these three priorities into focus."
Schumer then called on the Senate to vote on both the veto suspension of the Defense Act and the $ 2,000 payments and "drop the chips where they like". When he asked for unanimous approval to increase the check, McConnell protested.
Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Then requested a vote on the larger payments following Wednesday's vote on the National Defense Authorization Act. McConnell disagreed again. Sanders then followed up on his threat to delay the review of the veto waiver by objecting to a vote on Wednesday.
Since the Senate needs unanimous support to act quickly on most issues, any Senator can cease activities if they so choose.
Trump escalated pressure on Republicans to make larger payments on Tuesday afternoon. However, he said he would combine the relief with Section 230 reform and desperate efforts to overturn President-elect Joe Biden's November victory. The president's lawyers have repeatedly failed to prove that systematic electoral fraud cost him the election.
"If the Republicans don't have a death wish, and if it's the right thing to do, they must approve the $ 2,000 payments as soon as possible. $ 600 isn't enough!" Trump wrote on Twitter. "Get rid of Section 230, too – Don't let Big Tech steal our country or let the Democrats steal the presidential election. Get tough!"
If the entire Senate were considering the stimulus control legislation, likely all 48 Democrats and Independents meeting them would vote in favor. It would then need support from 12 of the Chamber's 52 Republicans.
Finance has announced that the $ 600 payments will expire this week. If Congress approves the increase to $ 2,000, it will be added to the original amount.
Because some GOP senators rejected the $ 900 billion spending in the final bailout package, they may not support the addition of $ 463 billion – the Joint Tax Committee's estimate of the cost of increasing the checks to $ 2,000 – to the price tag. However, several Republicans including Sens. Marco Rubio from Florida, Josh Hawley from Missouri and Kelly Loeffler, and David Perdue from Georgia have announced they will support the $ 2,000 payments.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to reporters after the weekly Senate Republican Conference meeting in the Mansfield Room in the U.S. Capitol in Washington on December 1, 2020.
Tom Williams | Reuters
In a tweet in response to Loeffler and Perdue's support for larger checks, Hawley said, "We have the votes. Let's vote today." He said, like Sanders, he would block the defense law review until the Senate votes on the $ 2,000 payments.
If they opt not to vote on the bill, the GOP would have to oppose the man who controls the Republican Party: Trump. He has repeatedly urged payments of $ 2,000 since threatening to veto the relief bill last week.
He said he wanted larger direct payments along with less foreign aid funding under the $ 1.4 trillion government funding package that was passed along with the aid proposal. Trump relented and signed the legislation on Sunday night, approving pandemic relief and preventing the government from closing.
The votes in the House on Monday show the GOP may be more comfortable bucking Trump. Only 44 Republicans supported the $ 2,000 check legislation, while 130 GOP officials voted against. Republicans also joined the Democrats to easily override Trump's veto on the defense bill.
Sander's attempt to keep the Senate in Washington during the week could also hamper Loeffler and Perdue, the Georgia Republicans who are campaigning for the crucial January 5 runoff. If Democrats win both races – in which they hammered the GOP Senators for their response to the coronavirus – they will flip control of the Senate.
Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, who compete in these contests, have labeled the GOP Senators' coronavirus response inadequate and pressured them to support payments of $ 2,000. In Fox News' interviews on Tuesday, Loeffler and Perdue suggested sponsoring the larger checks.
"I stood by the president 100% of the time. I'm proud of it and have absolutely said we have to give the Americans some relief now. And I will support that," Loeffler said when asked if she would help Correct bill.
She later fully approved of the $ 2,000 payments on Twitter.
Perdue told Fox he was "delighted to support the president" when he pushed for $ 2,000 in deposits.
Both had previously resisted efforts to make higher direct payments as part of the stimulus package.
Efforts to increase the level of direct payments stem from widespread concern that the bailout has gone far enough to help Americans struggling to pay for housing and food. Congress failed for months in renewing the financial lifelines of the pandemic, which ended over the summer as millions fell into poverty.
Before agreeing to the $ 900 billion package, McConnell had been pushing for about $ 500 billion in new spending. Democrats, meanwhile, have called for at least $ 2.2 trillion in aid.
The compromise package that the parties eventually reached includes $ 600 in direct payments, half of what Congress passed under the CARES bill in March. It also adds a $ 300 unemployment insurance surcharge, half of Congress approved in March for expanded payments. The weekly US $ 600 surcharge for unemployed Americans expired in July after lawmakers failed to renew it.
The new package includes $ 284 billion in loans for the Paycheck Protection Program. It also extends a federal eviction moratorium through January 31 and creates a $ 25 billion rental assistance fund.
The bill provides more than $ 8 billion to distribute Covid-19 vaccines and more than $ 20 billion to be given free to Americans.
It also includes $ 82 billion in education funding and $ 45 billion in transportation. It left out any aid to state and local governments struggling with the pandemic.
– CNBC's Hannah Miao contributed to this report