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 the support of two-thirds of House members present — a feat hard to reach in such a divided Washington. Republicans did not whip or pressure lawmakers on vote, leaving it up to members to decide on the bill’s fate after House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., last week blocked a unanimous consent request by Democrats to increase stimulus checks to $2,000.
The measure will now head to the GOP-controlled Senate where its future remains unclear. Senate Republicans have for months stressed over increased government spending and are likely to oppose the measure despite Trump’s demands.
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.
The vote Monday marked 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 $4,000 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 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.
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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.
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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.
Along with stimulus payments, 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.
Contributing: Rebecca Morin and Courtney Subramanian