But Democrats indicated they would not abandon their efforts. Andrew Bates, a spokesman for President-elect Joe Biden, said he supports the House bill and said “it’s imperative that we build on the bipartisan stimulus downpayment.”
Moreover, the issue has become central to the battle for the Senate. Democrats will continue to press the issue as two Republican senators, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, try to eke out run-off races that will determine Senate control next year. After Trump’s new demand, both said this week they support $2,000 payments.
“Mitch McConnell is effectively blocking people from getting extra help,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), the No. 4 Democratic leader. “Sen. Perdue and Sen. Loeffler should be urging Mitch McConnell to pass the House bill.”
Yet Republicans unrolled a messaging campaign casting the House’s legislation, which more than 40 House GOP members supported, as directing too much aid to the wealthy. McConnell said the House’s proposal is too generous for higher earners and that the Senate will consider only “smart targeted aid, not another fire hose of borrowed money that encompasses other people who are doing just fine.”
“It’s very inefficient and there will be a lot of assistance going to people that haven’t had any income loss during this time,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the GOP whip. “There are probably people out there that are going to need more and we ought to figure out a way we can target it to people that need it the most.”
Trump continued pressing his case: “$2000 ASAP!” he said on Twitter on Wednesday. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) even printed out massive posters of Trump’s tweets pushing for more cash and read them on the Senate floor.
But McConnell had plenty of back-up in attacking the House’s passed legislation. Even retiring Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said he had little interest in larger direct payments.
“$600 was about right and it was targeted. The problem with the $2,000 is it’s not targeted,” Alexander said. According to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, the House’s bill would send checks to higher earners more than the two previous rounds of direct payments.
The issue has dominated the Senate even as both parties are preparing to roll over Trump’s veto of the annual defense bill. Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Cornyn battled with Democrats on the Senate floor on Wednesday, spurning requests to hold a roll call vote. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Sanders and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) all tried to force votes, but each request was rejected.
Sanders and other Democrats said they would not consent to finishing a critical $740 billion defense bill until they got their vote, as did Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.).
“All that he has to do is give us an up or down vote on the issue of getting $2,000 to every working class adult in this country,” Sanders said of McConnell after the floor fight. “If he wants to bring up another approach, that’s fine too. But give us an up or down straight forward vote.”
When Trump signed a $900 billion stimulus bill providing $600 checks on Sunday, he said that he wanted Congress to address election fraud, tech company’s legal protections and the larger checks. He did not explicitly ask for them to be rolled together, but that’s precisely what McConnell did when he introduced his bill on Tuesday.
“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,” McConnell said.
Still, Hawley said he would support the House’s bill even though he would like to also repeal tech company’s “Section 230” legal protections. Democrats and some Republicans oppose a blanket repeal, meaning McConnell’s bill probably can’t get 60 votes in the Senate anyway. Moreover, the House is gone for the year, leaving their standalone bill to boost the $600 checks to $2,000 as the only real option at this point.
“There is no other game in town besides the House bill. The only way … to get to the American people the $2,000 checks they deserve and need is to pass the House bill and pass it now,” Schumer said.
But it’s not just McConnell who objects to even just holding a quick vote.
“I don’t think we should just have an up or down vote right now on some really bad policy,” Toomey said on CNBC.
Quint Forgey contributed to this report.