House Democrats will bring forward a bill to provide direct checks of $2,000 to individuals on Thursday, after President Trump called on Congress to amend a newly passed coronavirus relief bill to increase direct payments to $2,000, with $4,000 for a couple. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House will try to pass the bill by unanimous consent — meaning that only one Republican member opposing the proposal needs to be present in order to block the bill.
Mr. Trump indicated in a video posted to Twitter on Tuesday that he would not sign the $900 billion relief package passed by both houses of Congress on Monday. The package provides $600 in direct payments for adults making up to $75,000 per year and children, with $2,400 for a family of four.
The president's demand comes after weeks of negotiations, with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin playing an active part in determining the final numbers before the relief bill and an omnibus spending package passed with overwhelming majorities. By holding a voice vote on Thursday, Democrats will attempt to call Mr. Trump's bluff and force Republicans to go on the record for their opposition to increasing direct payments from $600 to $2,000.
But Mr. Trump's potential refusal to sign the current bill could have dire consequences, particularly if Congress is not able to convene to override a possible veto until after Christmas. The bill renewed relief provisions set to expire at the end of the month, such as critical emergency unemployment programs and an eviction moratorium. If these programs are allowed to expire, roughly 12 million Americans are set to lose unemployment benefits the day after Christmas. The bill also included an additional $300 per week in unemployment insurance and aid for small businesses.
In a tweet later on Tuesday, Pelosi noted that House Democrats had been calling for a larger relief package for months.
"Republicans repeatedly refused to say what amount the President wanted for direct checks. At last, the President has agreed to $2,000 — Democrats are ready to bring this to the Floor this week by unanimous consent. Let's do it!" Pelosi said. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer also called on Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring a bill increasing the direct payments to the Senate floor, saying in a tweet that "the American people deserve it."
Pelosi said in a letter to colleagues on Wednesday that Republicans had told her and Schumer that they would be unwilling to accept direct payments above $600.
"In the bipartisan negotiations, Leader Schumer and I repeatedly asked Republicans what would be the highest number the President would accept for direct payments, and they responded with Sphinx-like silence. In the negotiations, they would never go above $600 and in some cases, proposed $500," Pelosi said.
Even if the House is able to pass the bill by unanimous consent in the House, with no Republicans offering opposition, it is unlikely that it will pass in the Senate. GOP Senator Ron Johnson twice last week blocked proposals by Independent Senator Bernie Sanders and Republican Senator Josh Hawley to provide $1,200 direct checks. Johnson argued that spending money on direct checks would increase the deficit, and amount to "mortgaging our kids' future."
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a staunch ally of the president, said in a tweet Wednesday that he supports Mr. Trump's "demand to increase direct payments for long-suffering Americans to $2,000 per person." But it is still unclear whether McConnell would even bring such a bill to the floor.
The previous bipartisan relief bill passed by Congress in March, the CARES Act, provided direct checks of $1,200 for adults and $500 for children. The House passed a massive $3 trillion relief package in May, the HEROES Act, which would have provided direct payments of $1,200 to adults and children, with up to $6,000 per household.
However, McConnell refused to bring the HEROES Act to the Senate floor, arguing that it was too large and contained too many provisions unrelated to the coronavirus. Mr. Trump also slammed the bill, saying that the inclusion of direct funding for state and local governments amounted to a bailout for blue states.
The House then passed a revised, $2 trillion version of the HEROES Act in October, which still included the direct payments. However, McConnell still refused to bring the legislation to the Senate floor, and instead tried to pass a targeted $500 billion bill that did not include direct payments.
First published on December 23, 2020 / 10:00 AM
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