$2,000 checks sputter after McConnell blocks Dems

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday stymied Democrats’ long-shot bid to immediately increase direct stimulus payments to $2,000, leaving the fate of bigger checks in limbo as this Congress comes to a close at the end of the week.

In a floor speech, McConnell acknowledged President Donald Trump’s demand to increase payments, limit legal protections on tech companies and investigate election fraud as a condition for signing the $900 billion stimulus bill on Sunday. But he made only a vague commitment to litigating those issues in the coming days.

“Those are the three important subjects the president has linked together. This week the Senate will begin a process to bring those three priorities into focus,” McConnell said as he tried to set up a veto override vote on the annual defense bill for Wednesday.

Democrats are clearly wary that McConnell will try and roll the three disparate topics together, which Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said “is an invitation for this entire effort to fall apart.”

Senate Democrats rejected McConnell’s plans for the defense bill, insisting he would have to offer a path forward on larger checks in order to secure a quick vote to overturn Trump’s veto. That left the future of the relief checks in question.

Still, despite the kerfuffle on the floor, there’s been recent movement toward embracing the larger direct payments among Republicans. Many House Republicans supported a House bill to boost checks on Monday and conservative Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) told reporters on Tuesday she’s open to the idea.

“People are hurting and I think we need to get more aid,” she said, while panning the possibility the checks might get rolled together with unrelated bills. “I’m upset it’s not targeted. I’m upset that the process is always throwing in things together, I’m upset we continue to not have bills in time to really study them.”

Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) have endorsed $2,000 checks. Loeffler and Perdue are both in run-off races on Jan. 5 that will determine Senate control next year.

But getting those checks to the floor before then looks like a steep task after Tuesday’s brouhaha. First Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer tried to pass the House-approved bill increasing the checks from $600 to $2,000, which McConnell rejected. Passing such a bill unanimously was always unlikely, given resistance among Republicans about spending hundreds of billions more on checks.

Then Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) asked McConnell to at least set up a roll call vote to follow the veto override.

“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. “Do we turn our backs on struggling working families or do we respond to their pain?”

McConnell spurned that request too. Sanders responded by blocking quick passage of the veto override, leaving the possibility of keeping the Senate in session into New Year’s Day to finish consideration of the defense bill.

McConnell made clear the Senate will complete that task.

“Failure is not an option,” he said. “I urge my colleagues to support this legislation one more time when we vote.”

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