U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the body’s top Republican, said Wednesday the Senate would not quickly take up a House bill to boost the size of pandemic relief payments for most Americans to $2,000 from the current $600.
The Kentucky senator said the House bill “has no realistic path to quickly pass the Senate.”
With a new Congress due to be sworn in January 3, it was unclear what, if any, actions would be taken by the current Congress. Without action, the House bill will expire.
Democrats have long supported higher payments, and the Democratic-majority House quickly agreed to boost the sum to $2,000 after President Donald Trump first advocated the larger amount.
The president reiterated his position in a Wednesday tweet: “$2000 ASAP!”
McConnell has blocked several efforts by Senate Democrats to hold a yes-or-no vote on the payments, and on Tuesday introduced his own measure that coupled the issue with two unrelated demands Trump made concerning a U.S. defense bill that the president vetoed.
“If specific struggling households need still more help after the huge, historic package that was just signed into law four days ago has taken effect, then what they will need is smart, targeted aid,” McConnell said Wednesday. “Not another firehose of borrowed money that encompasses other people who are doing just fine.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the body’s top Democrat, objected to McConnell’s attempt to tie the stimulus money to Trump’s demands that social media companies be stripped of some legal protections and for a fresh investigation of potential election fraud. Republicans have mounted dozens of lawsuits without uncovering any significant evidence of fraud in the November presidential election won by Democrat Joe Biden.
“What we’re seeing right now is Leader McConnell trying to kill the checks — the $2,000 checks desperately needed by so many American families,” Schumer said.
Even if the combined legislation passed the Senate, it would have to go back to the Democrat-controlled House for a vote on the new provisions.
Some Republicans have expressed support for bigger coronavirus payments directed to families with combined annual incomes of up to $150,000, who make up about 81% of all U.S. households. Among the Republican proponents are Georgia's two senators, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, who are facing runoff elections next week. Their Democratic challengers also favor the bigger payments.
On another pending piece of legislation, McConnell is urging his colleagues to override Trump's veto of a $740 billion defense spending measure in a vote expected this week.
"President Trump has rightly noted this year's defense bill doesn't contain every provision that we Republicans would have wanted. I'm confident our Democratic colleagues feel the same way," McConnell said Tuesday. "But that is the case every year. And yet, for 59 consecutive years and counting, Washington has put our differences aside, found common ground and passed the annual defense bill."
The Senate approved the NDAA 84-13 earlier this month, far more than the two-thirds vote needed to override a veto. After Trump's veto, the House of Representatives responded with an overwhelming vote to override it on Monday.
McConnell was hoping to hold the Senate vote on Wednesday. However, liberal senators led by Bernie Sanders have been blocking action on the defense bill to press for a Senate vote on the increased coronavirus relief payments. A vote in the Senate could come later this week or over the weekend.
If the Senate approves the override, it would be the first time Congress has gone against a Trump veto during his four years in office.
Trump on Tuesday called the defense legislation a "disgraceful act of cowardice and total submission by weak people to Big Tech. Negotiate a better Bill, or get better leaders, NOW! Senate should not approve NDAA until
The president has criticized the bill on several fronts, including saying it should include the repeal of a provision that protects social media companies from liability over content their users post. Trump has voiced his displeasure that Twitter has frequently labeled his claims that he was defrauded of reelection as "disputed."
He also said the bill restricted his ability to bring U.S. troops home from "foreign lands who do NOTHING for us."
And Trump has demanded the removal of language that allows the renaming of U.S. military bases that honor leaders of the Confederacy, which seceded from the United States in the early 1860s, before collapsing at the end of the Civil War in 1865.