Drive for $2,000 Checks Bogs Down in Senate Despite Trump Push

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The prospects for boosting stimulus payments for most Americans to $2,000 are fading fast in the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate even with GOP leaders under pressure by both President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats.

The partisan clash over the payments also is entangling another piece of year-end business in the Senate — a vote to override Trump’s veto of a crucial $740.5 billion defense policy bill. Senator Bernie Sanders is attempting to force a delay on the defense legislation unless Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell relents and allows a vote on a standalone bill on the bigger stimulus checks.

McConnell on Tuesday blocked an attempt by Democratic leader Chuck Schumer to set up a vote on a House-passed bill that would increase the payments to $2,000 from the $600 — the amount in the pandemic relief measure Trump signed into law on Sunday. As the chances for quick action on bigger stimulus checks faded, U.S. stocks pulled back from record highs with the S&P 500 Index falling 0.2%.

Instead, McConnell is moving to present an alternative that would add to it a repeal of liability protections for social media companies and creation of a commission to study electoral fraud.

McConnell’s proposal responds to three issues Trump has said he wants, but a bill combining them likely will alienate enough senators in both parties to collapse under its own weight. Even though many Democrats and some Republicans want to see changes to the way Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media platforms police content on their sites, many are not likely to support full repeal of liability protections or back jamming it into an unrelated piece of legislation.

Democrats are also loath to give credence to Trump’s unfounded assertion that fraud cost him 2020 election by endorsing a commission to investigate voting security, at least not before President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in.

McConnell’s bill is still being drafted and Republicans are expected to discuss its contents when the Senate convenes on Wednesday. Already some senators are pushing for changes. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, said he would like to attach his proposal to shield companies from Covid-19 lawsuits, which Democrats oppose.

Democrats said McConnell’s draft bill was doomed to fail.

“If Senator McConnell tries loading up the bipartisan House-passed CASH Act with unrelated, partisan provisions that will do absolutely nothing to help struggling families across the country, it will not pass the House and cannot become law,” Schumer said, calling it “a blatant attempt to deprive Americans of a $2,000 survival check.”

The Republican slow-walking of the stimulus proposal comes despite increasingly angry statements by Trump urging the Senate to pass the bill.

“Unless Republicans have a death wish, and it is also the right thing to do, they must approve the $2000 payments ASAP. $600 IS NOT ENOUGH! Also, get rid of Section 230 – Don’t let Big Tech steal our Country, and don’t let the Democrats steal the Presidential Election. Get tough!” Trump tweeted on Tuesday.

Illustrating the political bind for Republicans, Georgia Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler on Tuesday came out in favor of the higher payments. Both are in the middle of tight re-election contests that will be settled in a Jan. 5 runoff that will determine control of the Senate. Their Democratic opponents, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, had previously endorsed the $2,000 checks.

Divided Republicans

A Senate vote on the stimulus checks would divide the Republican caucus. Either way it is decided, some GOP voters would be alienated, either those for bigger checks or those against more deficit spending.

“Blindly borrowing or printing another two-thirds of a trillion dollars so we can send $2,000 to children, the deceased, and tens of millions of workers who haven’t missed a paycheck, like federal and state employees, is not sound economic policy nor is it something I am willing to support,” Pennsylvania Republican Senator Pat Toomey said.

Only 44 Republicans joined 231 Democrats on Monday to pass a House measure increasing the payments to $2,000. In the Senate, just a handful of Republicans are now publicly on board, including Marco Rubio of Florida and Missouri’s Josh Hawley.

Cornyn told reporters he wouldn’t support the House standalone bill. He also is opposed to combining it with reworking or repealing Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act — which protects technology companies from liability for most content published by their users — as Trump wants.

“I think we need to address 230, but I just think this is not the right way to do it,” Cornyn said. “I think we need to take it up to the Judiciary Committee. It’s a complex topic.”

Even if GOP leaders suddenly get on board with $2,000 checks, the Senate may be unable to act on the proposal for some time.

McConnell began the technical process Tuesday of putting the House bill on the Senate calendar but there is no sign it will get a vote this week. With just five days before the term of the current Congress expires, the Senate is focused on overriding Trump’s veto of the annual defense bill. It would take unanimous consent, including the support of fiscal conservatives opposed to increased stimulus checks, to even attempt to stage votes on the $2,000 checks.

After Jan. 3, the House-passed bill would die, and the process would have to start all over again. Currently the Senate is slated to go on recess from Jan. 7 until Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20, although that could be changed.

Veto Override Maneuvers

The Senate on Wednesday will begin the process of voting to override Trump’s veto, but Sanders’s bid to get a vote on bigger stimulus payments could drag it out. Senators will take two procedural votes Wednesday. That could set up another procedural vote on New Year’s Day, with a final vote either Saturday or Sunday if Sanders continues his stand.

The House vote on the defense bill on Monday was 322-87, handily exceeding the two-thirds threshold needed to override a veto, with support coming from majorities of both Democrats and Republicans. If the Senate follows suit as expected in the waning days of Trump’s presidency, it will be the first time one of his vetoes has been surmounted.

The defense policy measure includes pay raises for troops and money for construction projects. It also continues authorizations for military bonuses, hazard pay, and special allowances and benefits for civilians serving in combat zones, all of which expire Dec. 31.