President Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., are leading the charge for a vote on $2,000 direct payments to Americans, an unlikely alliance that could affect both the bottom line for struggling Americans and control of the Senate.
On Monday, the House of Representatives passed a bill to increase the stimulus checks sent to Americans from the $600 in the recent COVID-19 relief plan to $2,000, the amount Trump demanded last week. In an attempt to force Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring that bill to a vote in the Senate, Sanders has said he will filibuster to delay a vote to override Trump’s veto of another measure, the defense funding bill, potentially keeping legislators in Washington through New Year’s Day.
Trump vetoed the National Defense Authorization Act last week over a provision to remove the names of Confederate officers from military bases and the absence of a provision he sought to overturn Section 230 liability protections for social media companies. The House voted to override his veto on Monday, sending it to the Senate, where Sanders has announced his plan to slow the process.
“McConnell and the Senate want to expedite the override vote and I understand that. But I’m not going to allow that to happen unless there is a vote, no matter how long that takes, on the $2,000 direct payment,” Sanders told Politico in an interview on Monday.
In an early Tuesday morning retweet describing Sanders’s plan, Trump wrote, “Give the people $2000, not $600. They have suffered enough!”
Trump and Sanders, who is among the most liberal members of the Senate, have rarely if ever been on the same side of a controversial piece of legislation.
Trump reluctantly signed the bill over the weekend, almost a week after it was passed. The $600 checks are currently set to go to Americans making less than $75,000, phasing out on a sliding scale up to incomes of $100,000. The payments will also go to children, meaning an eligible family of four would receive $2,400. The Treasury Department said it would attempt to begin sending the checks by the end of the week.
Trump’s call for $2,000 payments came after the deal was already agreed to by both parties in Congress with input from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who proposed $600 payments. Sanders, along with progressive legislators in both chambers, spent much of December advocating for increased payments, and after Trump’s call for larger checks last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi quickly moved to bring the issue to a vote.
Republican senators have been split on the issue. Some have opposed larger relief plans for months, citing concerns about the expense or the need for more targeted assistance. But others have lined up with Sanders. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., had been pushing for direct payments for weeks while Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said he supported increasing the checks to $2,000.
“I share many of my colleagues’ concern about the long-term effects of additional spending, but we cannot ignore the fact that millions of working class families across the nation are still in dire need of relief,” Rubio said in a statement on Monday.
Only 44 Republicans voted for the direct payment increase in the House, with 130 opposed. Two Democrats also opposed the measure. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said every member of his caucus supported the checks and urged Trump to rally his party in the chamber.
“These Senate Republicans have followed you through thick and thin. Get them now to act and to support the $2,000 checks,” Schumer said.
On Tuesday, McConnell blocked Sanders’ initial attempt to increase the payment size. Trump responded on Twitter, writing, “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!”
The vote on $2,000 checks could play into next week’s Senate runoffs in Georgia, where Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler began touting the relief bill almost immediately after its passage. According to reporting by CNN, McConnell included stimulus checks in the legislation in part to help Perdue and Loeffler, who he said were being “hammered” over the issue. Democrat Jon Ossoff, who is challenging Perdue, has called the $600 checks a “joke” and tweeted at his opponent Monday asking, “when will you commit to $2,000 relief checks for Georgians?” On Tuesday morning, both Perdue and Loeffler said they support the $2,000 payments.
“Georgians could have gotten $2,000 relief checks,” wrote the Rev. Raphael Warnock, the Democratic candidate in the other race. “You’re only getting $600 — because [Loeffler] refused to fight for more.”
If both Perdue and Loeffler were to lose, the Senate would be split 50-50, with the tiebreaking vote belonging to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, meaning Democrats would control the agenda for the next two years.
Because of Senate rules, the provision to increase payments to $2,000 would require the votes of 60 senators, meaning at least 12 Republicans would have to vote for it along with all 48 Democrats. Last week Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, a member of the GOP leadership, said he did not think the bill would pass the Senate.
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