So, blow up the deficit to do what Trump wants, or defy a lame-duck and stiff the poor? Oh, what a conundrum.
The House on Monday voted to beef up stimulus checks set to go out to American households in the coming weeks from $600 to $2,000. The chamber acted swiftly after President Trump demanded the larger payments last week, but passage of the measure is uncertain because Senate Republicans have not unified behind the idea.
On Sunday, Trump signed into law a $900 billion emergency relief package that included $600 checks. His advisers had advocated for those payments, but Trump later called the check size “measly” and demanded it be increased. After he signed the law, he pledged to continue pushing for the larger payments, something many Democrats also support.
Forty-four Republicans joined the vast majority of Democrats on Monday in approving the bill on a 275-to-134 vote — narrowly clearing the two-thirds threshold it needed to pass. The measure’s fate is much less certain in the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans.
Approving stimulus checks of $2,000 would cost $464 billion, the Joint Committee on Taxation said Monday. That would be in addition to the $900 billion package Trump signed into law Sunday. Congressional Republicans had sought to keep the total price tag under $1 trillion, but that was before Trump began a fierce effort in the past week to make the stimulus payments larger.
Since Trump first demanded the larger checks on Dec. 22, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Democrats have tried to push the idea into law. They have ignored his other complaints about the new spending package, however, particularly his calls for reductions in foreign aid and environmental programs.
“It’s not exactly what we would put on the floor if Republicans were in control,” said Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), who supported the larger checks. “But I think it recognizes the fact that [Pelosi is] the speaker and as a Democratic speaker, they’re going to have an input as to what that package is going to look like in regards to the terms and conditions of the direct checks. I’m willing to take half a loaf, and I think the president recognizes that.”
Monday’s vote took place after House Republican leaders blocked an attempt last week to pass the larger checks by unanimous consent in the House. The measure now goes to the Senate, and it is uncertain whether Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will move to consider it in the closing days of the current Congress. Some Senate Republicans are supportive of larger checks, though. The idea has been championed by Sen. Josh Hawley (Mo.), and Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) said he backed larger payments as well.
“I am concerned about the debt, but working families have been hurt badly by the pandemic,” Rubio wrote on Twitter on Monday. “This is why I supported $600 direct payments to working families & if given the chance will vote to increase the amount.”
Rubio is up for re-election in 2022, so anything he can do to balance between sucking up to Trump and attacking the Democrats for the deficit, which all of a sudden becomes The Most Important Thing on January 20.
In a way, you have to spare a little schadenfreude for the Republicans. They’re dealing with King Lear-like madness and trying to keep an even keel in their own ranks that now include the likes of Qanon believers and the perpetual lunacy of Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-Cray-cray) who is now suing Mike Pence for threatening to do his job on January 6.
I will be impressed if the Senate passes the $2,000 check bill and then see how they explain that the Democrats made them do it.