Senate GOP in Stimulus Payment Bind as Trump Ramps Up Pressure

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(Bloomberg) — Republicans will likely block Democrats’ attempts to have the Senate quickly follow the House in boosting stimulus payments for most Americans to $2,000, even as President Donald Trump ramped up pressure on the GOP to back bigger checks.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said he’ll seek unanimous consent Tuesday to pass a bill approved by a wide margin in the House, which would increase the payments from the $600 in the pandemic relief legislation Trump signed on Sunday. The move is expected to draw an objection from a Republican.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hasn’t said whether the Senate would take up the House bill, attempt to vote on a different one that would also increase direct payments or simply ignore the issue.

Trump on Tuesday, in a series of tweets that also excoriated Republican leaders on a defense policy bill, again demanded that the stimulus payments should be scaled up.

His surprise demand last week for bigger payments put Republicans in a bind after they resisted anything higher than $600 during the drawn-out negotiations on the original bill.

In the House on Monday, 44 Republicans joined 231 Democrats on Monday to pass a bill increasing the payments to $2,000. Democrats were quick to use Trump’s endorsement as a pressure point.

© Bloomberg Congress Poised For Vote On $900 Billion Pandemic Relief Plan

Mitch McConnell

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“The House and the President are in agreement: we must deliver $2,000 checks to American families struggling this Holiday Season,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a tweet, calling on the Senate to pass the higher payments.

Trump has expressed anger at McConnell and other GOP leaders for failing to back his quixotic attempt to overturn the election results. Now that the $2,000 checks issue is in the Senate, Trump is using social media to draw continued attention to it and pressure Republicans to take action.

McConnell is expected to speak about the issue when he opens the Senate for debate Tuesday afternoon. The Senate would likely need unanimous consent to be able to vote on both a defense bill veto override and the $2,000 checks legislation before this session of Congress expires on Sunday. Getting that agreement is unlikely.

That may leave it to the administration of President-elect Joe Biden, who has said he’ll seek an additional stimulus shortly after being inaugurated on Jan. 20.

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Yet whether he’ll have latitude to get additional relief through Congress will depend on the outcome of two runoff elections in Georgia on Jan. 5 that will decide control of the Senate. If Republicans hold on to just one of those seats, McConnell would remain majority leader and able to control the Senate agenda.

A vote against the increased payments would put Senate Republicans at odds with the leader of their party and on record against a politically popular idea, in a week that Republicans are trying to remain unified ahead of the Georgia elections.

In those races, Democratic Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock both used the pandemic relief legislation to criticize Republican incumbents, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler after Republicans previously blocked bigger stimulus payments.

Loeffler said Tuesday morning in an interview with “Fox & Friends” that she would vote for the higher payments.

“I’ve said absolutely we need to get relief to Americans now and I will support that,” Loeffler said. She earlier said she would consider larger stimulus payments if other spending cuts were made.

Georgia Votes

Perdue hasn’t taken a stand on the legislation. Ossoff, his opponent, has been using that as he campaigns.

“Let’s not forget that Senator Perdue opposed even the first round of $1,200 checks,” Ossoff said as he campaigned in Atlanta. “And he needs to join President Trump, president-elect Biden, and Democrats in supporting $2,000 relief payments right now.”

If Schumer is blocked from his request for unanimous consent as expected, neither Georgia senator will be forced to cast an on-record vote unless McConnell decides to put the House bill or a variation on the floor.

The relief bill passed by Congress has already played a role in the Georgia contests. After Trump criticized the legislation, raising the prospect he might veto it, Perdue lobbied the president in a Christmas Day phone call to sign it, concerned that Trump’s delay would harm his and Loeffler’s chances in the runoff.

Read More: Trump Got Christmas Plea on Aid From Senator Worried by Runoff

The House bill cleared the chamber on a 275 to 134 vote. In addition to increasing the payment amounts and the income cutoff to receive a check, the legislation would expand the eligibility of household members who can get the money, allowing adult dependents, as well as child dependents, to receive the payments. Currently, just children of adults under the income caps qualify for the payments.

The nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Budget estimates that the bigger payments would raise disposable income in the first quarter to as much as 25% above pre-pandemic levels. The legislation would produce an additional 1.5% in GDP output, but not all of the growth would occur in 2021, according to Marc Goldwein, an economist who co-authored the CRFB projections.

But many Republicans had opposed stimulus payments larger than the $600 in the existing law, in part over concerns about the price tag. Bumping the payments to $2,000 would cost roughly $463.8 billion, according to estimates by the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation.

“I worry that this whopping $463 billion won’t do what’s needed, stimulate the economy or help workers get back to work,” Representative Kevin Brady, a Texas Republican, said before the House vote. “It’s hard to stimulate the economy that is locked down by local politicians.”

‘No’ Votes

Pennsylvania Republican Senator Pat Toomey said Sunday he would vote against $2,000 checks, and Senator Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, blocked at attempt to bolster the payments to $1,200 when the pandemic relief legislation was being debated. During months of Covid-19 relief negotiations, Republicans fought against any direct payments and insisted that $600 was the maximum they could support in this round of economic aid.

In a statement that accompanied his signing of the broader legislation, Trump said the Senate had agreed to begin the process of voting on the $2,000 checks along with a measure to reform unrelated liability protections for technology companies and an investigation into alleged voter fraud. McConnell hasn’t made any public statements about such an agreement.

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