Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opposes a stand-alone vote on increasing the size of direct checks to Americans as part of coronavirus-r
WASHINGTON—The prospect of the Senate quickly approving $2,000 stimulus checks dimmed further, with the chamber focused on overriding President Trump’s veto of the annual defense-policy bill before the end of the session and Republican leaders brushing aside Democratic demands for a stand-alone vote on the larger payments.
Mr. Trump’s late push to increase the size of direct payments in the recent $900 billion coronavirus-relief legislation to $2,000 from $600 has scrambled the final days of the 116th Congress. Democrats took up Mr. Trump’s push for larger checks, rapidly passing a bill through the House with some Republican support and attempting to approve it in the GOP-led Senate.
On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) blocked a vote on the checks, the second time he has objected to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D., N.Y.) requests to vote on the House bill. Instead, he introduced legislation that joins the increased checks with other demands from Mr. Trump that lack bipartisan backing: eliminating Section 230 liability protections for social-media companies and reviewing purported voter fraud in the 2020 election. Mr. McConnell hasn’t announced a plan to take up that legislation.
Democrats have decried grouping the three provisions together, saying Mr. McConnell is using the contentious measures to cut off Democratic support for the bill and avoid holding a vote directly on the larger checks.
Mr. McConnell said Wednesday the three measures would move together to address Mr. Trump’s requests, and he criticized the House bill to increase the size of the checks, saying it had “no realistic path to quickly pass the Senate.” He said the $2,000 checks were an inefficient way to provide aid, as some of the money would go to people who haven’t suffered financial hardships.
“Here’s the deal: The Senate is not going to split apart the three issues that President Trump linked together just because Democrats are afraid to address two of them,” he said.
Mr. Schumer said Wednesday that Mr. McConnell should allow a stand-alone vote on the House bill increasing the size of the checks, predicting it could get enough Republican votes to advance.
“What we’re seeing right now is Leader McConnell trying to kill the checks, the $2,000 checks, desperately needed by so many American families, by tying them completely to partisan provisions,” Mr. Schumer said.
Mr. Trump hasn’t weighed in on how he would like Congress to proceed, and the White House didn’t respond to a request for comment. Mr. Trump tweeted Wednesday morning: “$2000 ASAP!”
While about a half dozen Senate Republicans have expressed support for larger checks, most have opposed additional spending on top of the $900 billion in aid signed into law Sunday by Mr. Trump. A stand-alone vote on checks could pit Republicans wary of additional deficit spending against others in the GOP eager to send more cash to Americans and support the president’s position. The larger checks proposed in the House bill, which would go to people with adjusted gross incomes under $75,000, would cost hundreds of billions of dollars.
“They want to spend the money on people who frankly haven’t suffered any financial losses during the pandemic, and that’s just wasteful,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas).
While consensus is growing in Washington that Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act needs an overhaul, Republicans and Democrats haven’t agreed on how to change or replace it, and any negotiations would stretch well into next year. On voter fraud, Democrats are leery of legislation that would appear to give credence to Mr. Trump’s claims that the November election was stolen from him. Local and federal officials have found no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election, which Mr. Trump lost to Democratic President-elect Joe Biden.
Mr. McConnell’s bill would create a bipartisan commission to study the election and issue recommendations to Congress on election integrity.
The stalemate over increasing the size of the checks will likely last through the weekend, when the current Congress concludes and the new one begins.
After that date, Congress will have to start over on any pending legislation, potentially pushing the Democrat-led House to again pass a bill increasing the size of the checks. The push for new checks could become increasingly complicated if lawmakers try to include other policy provisions.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said on Wednesday that she hoped the Senate would take up the House legislation this week.
“Let’s be hopeful that it can happen this week because the sooner it happens the sooner the checks go out,” she said. “So we’re not giving up on it.”
Moving through the procedural steps for overriding Mr. Trump’s veto of the National Defense Authorization Act could take up much of the Senate’s time before Sunday. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), in a push for a stand-alone vote on increasing the size of the direct checks, has stopped Mr. McConnell from fast-tracking votes on the NDAA override. As a result, the final vote on the NDAA may not take place until Saturday due to a series of procedural steps.
The Senate took one of those steps late Wednesday, voting 80-12 to move forward with the bill, in another show of broad, bipartisan support for the legislation Mr. Trump vetoed.
Mr. Trump vetoed the defense bill, which passed with broad bipartisan majorities in both chambers, after criticizing it for stripping military installations of names and monuments honoring Confederates. He has also criticized it for regulating troop withdrawals he has sought and not including a removal of the social-media protections he has criticized.
Those Section 230 protections have given online companies broad immunity from legal liability for their users’ actions and wide latitude to police content on their sites. Republicans have criticized Section 230 because they think it allows social media companies to suppress conservative viewpoints, while Democrats think it lets social media companies ignore false or misleading content disseminated on their platforms.
Write to Andrew Duehren at [email protected]
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Appeared in the December 31, 2020, print edition as ‘Outlook Dims for Bigger Stimulus Checks.’