DECEMBER 28, 2020
The House on Monday approved giving Americans weathering the coronavirus pandemic $2,000 stimulus checks, substantially boosting payments from the $600 checks that were set to be given out as part of a COVID-19 relief package that President Donald Trump signed into law Sunday evening.
The bill, which passed in a 275 – 134 vote, needed need support of two-thirds of House members present. The outcome was largely left in the air as Republicans did not whip votes on the measure. Last week, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., blocked a unanimous consent request by Democrats to increase stimulus checks from $600 to $2,000 despite Trump demanding Congress approve higher stimulus checks.
“The President must immediately call on Congressional Republicans to end their obstruction and to join him and Democrats in support of our stand-alone legislation to increase direct payment checks to $2,000,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement Sunday evening. “Every Republican vote against this bill is a vote to deny the financial hardship that families face and to deny the American people the relief they need.”
The vote Monday marks a test for Republicans, who have opposed more government spending, even as Trump pressed for checks to be boosted to $2,000 per adult and $4000 per couple. Congress’ nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that raising the payments to $2,000 per adult would cost nearly $464 billion. The division between congressional Republicans and the president comes at a moment where Trump is counting on conservatives to help him in his misguided battle over the results of the election.
Next week, Congress will meet in a joint session to formally count the votes of the Electoral College, a day that is expected to draw protests as Trump hopes Republicans will object to certificates in some states in what would certainly end in being a failed effort to overturn election results.
The boosted checks were a direct demand from Trump, one of several policy items that led the president to heavily criticize the package — despite his own administration negotiating the legislation with Congress as part of a large government spending package. He called the legislation a “disgrace,” which launched fears that the president might not sign the bill. His criticisms and delay in signing the legislation resulted in expanded unemployment insurance expiring for millions of unemployed Americans, delaying their next check. Trump’s opposition also came as a slap in the face to many Republicans who voted in support of the measure after his administration gave it the green light.
Trump ended up signing the $900 billion COVID-19 relief package, which was attached to a $1.4 trillion government spending bill, Sunday evening to avert a government shutdown. He warned that he would send the measure back with revisions, though House Democrats have already said they would not take up the president’s requests. The process, known as a rescission request, would temporarily freeze certain funds highlighted by the president for 45 days. If Congress does not take up the changes, the funds will be released after that period.
“As President, I have told Congress that I want far less wasteful spending and more money going to the American people in the form of $2,000 checks per adult and $600 per child,” Trump said in a statement Sunday. “I am signing this bill to restore unemployment benefits, stop evictions, provide rental assistance, add money for PPP, return our airline workers back to work, add substantially more money for vaccine distribution, and much more.”
Republicans on Capitol Hill, caught between a vote to approve the stimulus they thought would be popular and a president who appeared bent on undermining the measure after it was approved, appeared to breathe a sigh of relief after Trump signed off on the package.
“I am glad the American people will receive this much-needed assistance as our nation continues battling this pandemic,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement Sunday evening.
The relief package provides up to $600 in direct stimulus checks to millions of Americans and extends unemployment benefits, as well as a program intended to help small businesses retain their employees during the coronavirus pandemic. The bill was the fifth passed by Congress since the pandemic began nearly a year ago and the result of intense negotiations in recent days as lawmakers and their staff worked on a compromise that drew criticism from the far right for being too costly and from the far left who said it didn’t go far enough to help Americans.
The dispute between Trump and lawmakers came as the coronavirus pandemic continues its winter march across the United States, dramatically increasing infections and deaths.
If the $2,000 stimulus check bill passes the House, the measure is unlikely to see support with Republicans who control the Senate despite Trump’s demands.
For months, Republicans have voiced concerns over increased government spending and a vote on this measure will force conservative lawmakers into an uncomfortable position: either cave on their long-held objections or snub a key demand of the president in the last weeks of his tenure.
Republicans are similarly in a tight spot on another measure Monday as they consider overriding the president’s veto of the annual national defense bill.
The bill, a $741 billion national security package, will raise troops’ pay, direct the purchase of weapons and set military policies. The president voiced opposition to the measure largely over two key provisions: an inclusion that would rename certain military bases that honor Confederate military leaders and Congress’ refusal to include language that would strip social media companies from the protections they enjoy under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
Many House Republicans are expected to join Democrats Monday in overriding the president — marking the first time the chamber will have rebuked one of Trump’s vetoes.