United States President Donald Trump’s push for bigger $2,000 COVID-19 relief cheques stalled in the Senate on Tuesday as Republicans blocked a swift vote proposed by Democrats and split within their own ranks over whether to boost spending or defy the White House.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell threw up roadblocks to Trump’s request to increase the cheques from $600 for millions of Americans even as political pressure mounted.
A growing number of Republicans, including two senators in runoff elections on January 5 in Georgia, said they would support the larger amount.
Most Republican senators oppose the additional COVID-19 spending, which would cost the US government $484bn, even if they are also wary of bucking Trump who repeated his demand in a tweet: “$2000 for our great people, not $600!”
Following Trump’s lead, Republican Senators Josh Hawley and Marco Rubio, among the party’s potential 2024 presidential hopefuls, are pushing for the $2,000 cheques. “We’ve got the votes. Let’s vote today,” Hawley tweeted.
We’ve got the votes. Let’s vote today https://t.co/woFBHPMSjz
— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) December 29, 2020
Seeking to devise a way out of the political bind, McConnell offered to combine the president’s demand for bigger cheques with two proposals Trump wants that are non-starters for Democrats – content restrictions on technology companies such as Facebook or Twitter and the establishment of a commission to review Trump’s fraud claims in the presidential election.
“Senator McConnell knows how to make $2,000 survival checks reality and he knows how to kill them,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement.
McConnell is “loading up the bipartisan House-passed” measure providing the $2,000 cheques “ with unrelated, partisan provisions that will do absolutely nothing to help struggling families across the country,” Schumer said.
The showdown has thrown Congress into a chaotic year-end session just days before new legislators are set to be sworn into office for the new year. And it is preventing action on another priority – overturning Trump’s veto on a sweeping annual defence policy bill.
The president’s last-minute push for bigger cheques divides Republicans, who are split between those who align with Trump’s populist instincts and those who adhere to what had been more traditional conservative views against government spending. Congress had settled on smaller $600 payments in a compromise over the big, year-end relief bill Trump reluctantly signed into law.
Now, liberal senators led by Bernie Sanders of Vermont who support the relief aid are blocking action on the defence bill until a vote can be taken on Trump’s demand for $2,000 for most Americans. “The working class of this country today faces more economic desperation than at any time since the Great Depression of the 1930s,” Sanders said in Senate remarks. “Working families need help now.”
The Republican blockade is causing turmoil for some as the virus crisis worsens and Trump amplifies his unexpected demands.
The two Republican senators from Georgia, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, announced Tuesday they support Trump’s plan for bigger cheques as they face Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock in runoff elections that will determine which party controls the Senate.
“I’m delighted to support the president,” said Perdue on broadcaster Fox News. Loeffler said in an interview on Fox that she, too, backs the boosted relief cheques.
Trump repeated his demand in a tweet ahead of Tuesday’s Senate session: ”$2000 for our great people, not $600!” Other Republicans panned the bigger cheques saying the nearly $484bn price tag was too high, the relief is not aimed those in need and Washington has already dispatched ample sums on COVID-19 aid.“We’ve spent $4 trillion on this problem,” said Republican Senator John Cornyn.
The US House of Representatives voted late Monday to approve Trump’s request for $2,000 cheques in a stunning turn of events. Just days before, during a brief Christmas Eve session, Republicans had blocked Trump’s sudden demand for bigger checks as he defiantly refused to sign the broader COVID-19 aid and year-end funding bill into law.
Trump spent days fuming from his private club in Florida, where he is spending the holidays and millions of Americans saw jobless aid lapse as the nation risked a federal government shutdown.
Economists said a $600 cheque will help, but that it is a far cry from the spending power that a $2,000 cheque would provide for the economy. “It will make a big difference whether it’s $600 versus $2,000,” said Ryan Sweet, an economist with Moody’s.
The outlook now, however, is that McConnell will set up votes ahead on both the House-passed measure supporting Trump’s $2,000 cheques as well as his own new version linking it with the tech company reforms and the presidential election review. That would be a process that likely ensures neither bill will pass.
Time is running out for resolution of the issue. A new Congress is set to be sworn in Sunday. The $600 checks are set to be delivered, along with other aid, among the largest rescue packages of its kind.