Washington — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday blocked an attempt to vote on the $2,000 stimulus checks approved by the House, but resurrected the higher payments in a new bill that includes other items on President Trump's wish list: The creation of a commission to study election fraud and the repeal of Section 230, which shields social media companies from lawsuits.
The House passed the bill introduced last week and brought it to the floor for a vote in response to the last-minute request from Mr. Trump to increase the payments to $2,000. A number of Republicans joined with their Democratic counterparts in support of the measure.
While Republicans resisted efforts by their Democratic colleagues to approve a coronavirus relief package with a $1 trillion price tag, a growing number of GOP senators have announced their support for the increased direct payments, including Georgia's two Republican senators who are on the ballot in a pair of runoff elections January 5.
Senator Kelly Loeffler tweeted earlier Tuesday to announce her support for the $2,000 payments, saying, "I agree with @realDonaldTrump — we need to deliver $2,000 direct relief checks to the American people." Senator David Perdue quickly followed, tweeting, "President @realDonaldTrump is right — I support this push for $2,000 in direct relief for the American people."
But McConnell's new legislation puts Senate Democrats, who have been supportive of the payment increase, in a bind, as they would also have to approve the commission and the repeal of Section 230. The legislation is also likely to face opposition from fiscally conservative Republicans, who insist targeted relief, not checks for all, is the way to go.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, whose office circulated McConnell's new bill, blasted McConnell's attempt to bundle the stimulus increase with other measures.
"Senator McConnell knows how to make $2,000 survival checks reality and he knows how to kill them," Schumer said. "If Sen. McConnell tries loading up the bipartisan House-passed CASH Act with unrelated, partisan provisions that will do absolutely nothing to help struggling families across the country, it will not pass the House and cannot become law – any move like this by Sen. McConnell would a blatant attempt to deprive Americans of a $2,000 survival check. Will Senate Republicans go along with Sen. McConnell's cynical gambit or will they push him to give a vote on the standalone House-passed CASH Act?"
The Joint Committee on Taxation estimated replacing the $600 direct payments approved in the latest coronavirus relief package with $2,000 checks would cost roughly $463.8 billion.
Following McConnell's objection earlier Tuesday, Mr. Trump said the Senate must approve the $2,000 checks "ASAP" unless they have a "death wish."
"$600 IS NOT ENOUGH! Also, get rid of Section 230 - Don't let Big Tech steal our Country, and don't let the Democrats steal the Presidential Election. Get tough!" he tweeted.
The push for increased relief payments to Americans was driven by an 11th hour-demand from Mr. Trump last week for Congress to raise the $600 payments approved by lawmakers last week to $2,000. The president suggested he would not sign the original measure, which was combined with a $1.4 trillion government spending bill, calling it a "disgrace" and pushing the nation closer to a government shutdown.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi swiftly seized on Mr. Trump's demand, and on Christmas Eve, the House attempted to pass by unanimous consent a bill to provide $2,000 checks. But Republicans blocked the proposal.
Then, on Sunday, the president unexpectedly relented and signed the package. Still, he continued to push for the $2,000 relief checks and said the Senate would "start the process for a vote."
He tweeted Tuesday, "$2000 for our great people, not $600! They have suffered enough from the China Virus!!!"