Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate would look to address President Trump’s call to increase stimulus checks from $600 to $2,00
WASHINGTON—Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell moved to derail efforts to quickly pass larger stimulus checks for many Americans, blocking Democrats’ call for a stand-alone vote on the payments sought by President Trump but opposed by most Republicans.
The Kentucky Republican said the Senate would address Mr. Trump’s demands to boost the size of the checks to $2,000 from $600, but tie them to two other of the president’s concerns that lack bipartisan support: changes to online-speech rules and his complaints about purported election fraud. He took steps to put all three items into one bill, without scheduling a vote.
“This week the Senate will begin a process to bring these three priorities into focus,” Mr. McConnell said.
Democrats said Mr. McConnell’s decision to attach the checks to contentious issues was designed to sink the effort for bigger payments.
Such a bill “will not pass the House and cannot become law—any move like this by Sen. McConnell would be a blatant attempt to deprive Americans of a $2,000 survival check,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.).
Mr. Trump signed a Covid-19 aid bill into law Sunday but said that the $600 payments in that package were too small, and he has continued to push for an increase.
He tweeted Tuesday: “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!”
Mr. Trump’s demands had set off a scramble on Capitol Hill. The House on Monday night voted 275 to 134 to increase the size of the checks to $2,000, with 44 Republicans joining almost all Democrats in support. Mr. Schumer was then blocked by Mr. McConnell on Tuesday morning when he tried to bring the House bill to the Senate floor for a vote. Democrats continued to press the matter.
“Let’s not muddy the waters,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with the Democrats. “Are you for $2,000 or are you not…That’s what the American people want to know.”
Several Republican senators, including two competing in runoffs soon that will decide control of the Senate, said they would support larger checks. But most Republicans have opposed additional spending on top of the $900 billion signed into law on Sunday night by Mr. Trump, and a stand-alone vote on checks would force them to either cross the president or break with their previous stance.
Mr. McConnell also moved to schedule a vote to override Mr. Trump’s veto of the bipartisan National Defense Authorization Act, after the House voted Monday to override the veto. This would be the first veto override in the Trump presidency.
“Failure is not an option here,” Mr. McConnell said of the NDAA legislation, while acknowledging Mr. Trump’s concerns. “I urge my colleagues to support this legislation one more time when we vote tomorrow.”
Mr. Trump rejected the defense bill over provisions that remove base names honoring Confederate officers and that limit troop withdrawals from Germany and Afghanistan. He also wanted lawmakers to repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which regulates online speech, as part of the bill.
“Weak and tired Republican ‘leadership’ will allow the bad Defense Bill to pass,” Mr. Trump tweeted Tuesday.
Mr. Sanders objected to Mr. McConnell’s attempt to quickly put the NDAA veto override on the floor, saying he also wanted a stand-alone vote on the $2,000 checks. Under Senate rules, it could potentially delay the final NDAA vote until the weekend.
The call for larger stimulus checks has injected more drama into the final days of the congressional session. Democrats have pressed Republicans to back the president’s call to increase the stimulus checks in the pandemic aid package to the $2,000 level, up from $600 per adult and per child for individuals with adjusted gross incomes under $75,000.
The effort to boost the size of the checks had been expected to face an uphill battle to pass in the GOP-controlled Senate, where 12 Republicans would need to join with all members of the Democratic caucus to get the 60 votes needed for the bill to advance. Republicans for months resisted increasing a pandemic aid legislative package above $1 trillion, citing worries about spending and the deficit. The final aid package that Congress passed was estimated to cost $900 billion, and the proposed bigger checks would cost an additional $463 billion, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation, on top of the $166 billion estimated for the $600 checks.
“Congress should continue helping workers who’ve lost their jobs,” Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) tweeted. “But blindly borrowing more than $600 billion so we can send $2,000 checks to millions of people who haven’t lost any income is terrible policy. I won’t consent to a vote on that.”
Five Republicans have signaled that they back increasing the size of the stimulus checks, including Sens. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) and Deb Fischer (R., Neb.).
Ms. Fischer said she opposed putting the checks bill together with legislation repealing protections for social media companies, which was called for by the president. “I don’t like everything rolled in together,” she told reporters. “I think you end up with bad policy.”
Notably, Georgia Republican incumbent Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, who are engaged in the Jan. 5 runoff races, said Tuesday that they support the president’s call to increase the stimulus checks. They didn’t say if they wanted a clean bill with only the checks, or if they would back a bill combining Mr. Trump’s requests.
“I’m delighted to support the president in this $2,000,” Mr. Perdue said on Fox News. “It’s really a $1,400 increment over what we’ve done…It’s the right thing to do for people in Georgia.”
Mr. Perdue’s Democratic opponent Jon Ossoff attacked the senator for backing increasing the checks, saying he had spent months opposing stimulus checks and extending unemployment aid.
Both Georgia candidates have firmly tied their campaigns to Mr. Trump, who is planning to travel to Georgia on Jan. 4 for a rally in support of the senators. Republicans have a 50 to 48 majority in the Senate. If Democrats win both runoffs, they will gain control because Vice President-elect Kamala Harris could cast any tiebreaker votes. If the Democrats lose one of them, the GOP maintains control.
—Catherine Lucey contributed to this article.
Write to Natalie Andrews at [email protected]
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Appeared in the December 30, 2020, print edition as ‘Senate Leader Blocks Vote on Aid Boost.’