WASHINGTON — Senator Mitch McConnell effectively killed off any chance that Congress would increase stimulus checks to $2,000 before President Trump leaves office, saying there was “no realistic path” for the Senate to pass a stand-alone bill.
Mr. McConnell, the majority leader, insisted on Wednesday that lawmakers would only consider an omnibus bill that included the $2,000 checks and two other issues that Mr. Trump has demanded Congress address: investigating the integrity of the 2020 election and revoking legal protections for social media platforms. Democrats will not take up either matter, dooming any chance that such a bill could pass.
Speaking from the Senate floor, Mr. McConnell defiantly accused Democrats of overstepping. “The Senate is not going to be bullied into rushing out more borrowed money into the hands of Democrats’ rich friends who don’t need the help,” he said.
Yet it is Mr. Trump who has been demanding that lawmakers increase stimulus checks to $2,000 from $600, criticizing his own party for not moving quickly to do so.
“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!” the president wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.
With four days left in the legislative session, the hard-line stance effectively guarantees that Mr. Trump will not get any of his last-minute demands, despite growing calls from Republican lawmakers to put more money into Americans’ hands.
For days, Mr. Trump held a bipartisan, $900 billion stimulus bill hostage, saying it did not provide big enough checks and refusing to sign it. He finally relented on Sunday and said he had secured a commitment from lawmakers to increase the payments and address two other issues that have drawn his ire: his loss in the 2020 election and legal protections for big technology companies like Facebook and Twitter that are provided by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
“The Senate will start the process for a vote that increases checks to $2,000, repeals Section 230 and starts an investigation into voter fraud,” Mr. Trump said in a statement on Sunday, repeating his unfounded claim of fraud in the 2020 election.
Mr. McConnell insisted that the president wanted those demands considered simultaneously and accused Democrats of “trying to pull a fast one on the president.”
“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,” Mr. McConnell said.
“They’re hoping everyone just forgets about election integrity and big tech,” he said. “They’re desperate to ignore those two parts of President Trump’s request.”
Mr. Trump, however, continued to push for quick action on increasing checks.
“$2000 ASAP!” he wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.
While millions of Americans remain out of work, many economists say that increasing the checks to $2,000 from $600 would most likely have a negligible impact on stimulating the economy since a significant chunk of those receiving payments are likely to save, not spend, the funds. The stimulus payments are based on income levels, not job status. Democrats had pushed for an extra $600 per week in jobless benefits, since that money would go directly to those out of work, but Republicans rejected that request, saying it would discourage people from seeking employment.
Dec. 30, 2020, 9:23 p.m. ET
On Monday, the House approved a bill increasing the checks to $2,000, and Democrats in the Senate have been urging Mr. McConnell to allow a similar vote. After Mr. McConnell concluded his remarks on Wednesday, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, again tried to hold an immediate vote on the House bill, arguing that with just days left in the legislative session and the House out of session, “there is no other game in town.”
“At the very least, the Senate deserves the opportunity for an up-or-down vote,” Mr. Schumer said, calling Mr. Trump “our unlikely ally.” Mr. McConnell again blocked his request, as he did on Tuesday.
Mr. Schumer and other Democrats warned that they would not support any effort to combine Mr. Trump’s three demands into one piece of legislation.
The bill that Mr. McConnell assembled would create a bipartisan commission to study election practices that “strengthened” and that “undermined the integrity of the election,” like the use of mail-in ballots and vote-by-mail procedures, which Mr. Trump has baselessly complained encouraged voter fraud. It would also repeal Section 230, a legal shield that prevents social media companies from being sued for much of the content users post to their platforms.
The economic relief package will issue payments of $600 and distribute a federal unemployment benefit of $300 for at least 10 weeks. Find more about the measure and what’s in it for you. For details on how to get assistance, check out our Hub for Help.
- Will I receive another stimulus payment? Individual adults with adjusted gross income on their 2019 tax returns of up to $75,000 a year will receive a $600 payment, and a couple (or someone whose spouse died in 2020) earning up to $150,000 a year will get twice that amount. There is also a $600 payment for each child for families who meet those income requirements. People who file taxes using the head of household status and make up to $112,500 also get $600, plus the additional amount for children. People with incomes just above these levels will receive a partial payment that declines by $5 for every $100 in income.
- When might my payment arrive? The Treasury Department said on Dec. 29 that it had started making direct deposit payments, and would begin to mail checks the next day. But it will be a while before all eligible people receive their money.
- Does the agreement affect unemployment insurance? Lawmakers agreed to extend the amount of time that people can collect unemployment benefits and restart an extra federal benefit that is provided on top of the usual state benefit. But instead of $600 a week, it would be $300. That will last through March 14.
- I am behind on my rent or expect to be soon. Will I receive any relief? The agreement will provide $25 billion to be distributed through state and local governments to help renters who have fallen behind. To receive assistance, households will have to meet several conditions: Household income (for 2020) cannot exceed more than 80 percent of the area median income; at least one household member must be at risk of homelessness or housing instability; and individuals must qualify for unemployment benefits or have experienced financial hardship — directly or indirectly — because of the pandemic. The agreement said assistance will be prioritized for families with lower incomes and that have been unemployed for three months or more.
Mr. Trump has attacked Section 230 for months, arguing without evidence that the law enables websites to censor conservative views.
Mr. McConnell’s decision to prevent a vote on bigger checks is likely to inflame the issue in a pair of tight runoff races in Georgia, which will determine control of the Senate.
Both Republicans trying to retain their seats — Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue — endorsed the bigger checks on Tuesday, matching the demands of their Democratic challengers, who have called the $600 paltry, and framing the decision as an effort to support the president. Within minutes of Mr. McConnell’s remarks, Senate Democrats’ campaign arm attacked Ms. Loeffler and Mr. Perdue and called their endorsements of the bill “empty gestures.”
Other Republicans — including Marco Rubio of Florida and Josh Hawley of Missouri — have rallied around bigger checks, bucking their party’s concerns about adding to the federal budget deficit.
“I am concerned about the debt, but working families have been hurt badly by the pandemic,” Mr. Rubio said in a tweet. “This is why I supported $600 direct payments to working families & if given the chance will vote to increase the amount.”
Still, the vast majority of Republicans have shown little interest in delivering larger stimulus checks despite Mr. Trump’s request, arguing that any further direct payments should be narrowly aimed at those who need the money most.
“I thought the combination of help that we gave to the American people, which was much more than just a direct payment of $600, was about right. It was targeted,” Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, told reporters on Wednesday. “If we’re going to spend money, that much money, our preference will be to target it.”
Democrats “want to spend the money on people who frankly haven’t suffered any financial losses during the pandemic, and that’s just wasteful,” said Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas.
Mr. Cornyn said it was unlikely that the push for larger checks would advance further, and shrugged off a question about whether Republicans were worried about any political blowback by denying Mr. Trump’s demand.
“After we spent $4 trillion?” Mr. Cornyn responded, referring to the previous stimulus packages Congress has passed. “No, not in any normal world.”