Senate Majority Leader McConnell blocks effort to quickly increase direct stimulus payments

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, attempted to pass the change to the omnibus spending bill through a unanimous consent request on the Senate floor, but any senator can halt passage of legislation that way. McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, objected to the request.

The House passed the increase to stimulus payments on Monday with wide bipartisan support. Democratic leaders have cited President Donald Trump’s criticism of the $600 payments as too low and the GOP President’s push to increase the stimulus checks in their effort to pass the change through the Senate.
The measure could be scheduled for another vote in the Senate at a later date. What McConnell will do remains unclear as of Tuesday evening, though the Kentucky Republican did make moves that offer insight into where he may take the process. McConnell introduced legislation Tuesday to combine two additional demands from Trump to the expansion of direct stimulus payments, raising Democratic concern the pathway for expanded stimulus payments would soon be short-circuited.

While the move doesn’t guarantee McConnell will bring the bill up for a vote, it provides a substantive option should time — and the political winds — press the chamber in that direction. It’s also one that would be all but certain to fail to garner the votes for passage.

Many Republican senators objected to an increase in stimulus payments during negotiations for a Covid-19 relief package throughout the year, citing the growing price tag of the plan. However, multiple GOP senators — including two members facing runoffs in Georgia next week — have come out in favor of Trump’s push to increase payments, even after the previous legislation passed Congress last week.

By tying all of Trump’s demands together, particularly with policies Democrats are almost sure to oppose, McConnell gives himself an option that, should he bring it to the floor, would give Republicans something to vote for with little risk it could become law.

“If we start adding poison pills to the $2,000 payment bill, that is just another way of telling the American people that this body doesn’t support $2,000 payments,” Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, said of the additional provisions.

Earlier Tuesday, Schumer urged the Senate to join Trump and the House to increase the size of the checks, arguing that “working Americans have taken it on the chin” during the pandemic.

“The fastest way to get money into Americans pockets, is to send some of their tax dollars right back from where they came,” he said.

Schumer said $600 is “not enough” for Americans who need the extra money to pay for groceries and rent, and dismissed concerns that the proposal would add too much money to the deficit. He said that Republicans had previously passed nearly $2 trillion in tax cuts and recently fought to include a tax break for corporate meal expenses.

“I don’t want to hear that we can’t afford it,” Schumer said.

If the bill does get a full vote in the Senate, it would need at least 12 Republican senators to join all members of the Democratic caucus in order to cross the 60-vote threshold to advance.

“Those are the three important subjects the President has linked together,” said McConnell. “This week, the Senate will begin a process to bring these three priorities into focus.”

Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders who said he would move to delay a vote unless McConnell brings $2,000 stimulus checks to a vote on the floor, continues to push for larger checks.

“The leaders of our country, President Trump, President-elect Biden, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi are all in agreement,” Sanders said in floor remarks. “We have got to raise the direct payment to $2,000. So, that is where we are right now in this historic moment. Do we turn our backs on struggling working families or do we respond to their pain?”

Before any action on stimulus payments, the Senate must process the override of Trump’s veto. McConnell initially attempted to set that vote for Wednesday, but Sanders objected and made clear he would draw the process out unless the Senate held an up-or-down vote on the House-passed stimulus check measure. Sanders, however, can’t stop the NDAA override vote — only draw it out. And the longer that process takes, the more likely it becomes that no action is taken at all on the direct payments issue before the end of the 116th Congress on Sunday

The round of stimulus payments at the $600 level included in the $900 billion Covid relief package signed into law Sunday night are expected to start going out this week, an administration official told CNN, while acknowledging that the timing could slide. As with that first round, the new payments will start phasing out for individuals with adjusted gross incomes of more than $75,000, and those making more than $99,000 won’t receive anything. The income thresholds would be doubled for couples.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin tweeted Tuesday evening that direct payments to Americans may begin to be deposited as early as later in the night. These would be the $600 payments included in the relief package Trump signed on Sunday evening.

“.@USTreasury has delivered a payment file to the @FederalReserve for Americans’ Economic Impact Payments. These payments may begin to arrive in some accounts by direct deposit as early as tonight and will continue into next week (1/2),” Mnuchin wrote in a series of consecutive tweets. “Paper checks will begin to be mailed tomorrow. Later this week, you can check the status of your payment at http://IRS.gov/GetMyPayment. (2/2)”

This story has been updated with additional developments Tuesday.

CNN’s Phil Mattingly and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.

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