Written by Compiled by Democrat-Gazette Staff from Wire Reports
Published by Arkansas Democrat Gazette
WASHINGTON — The House voted overwhelmingly Monday to increase covid-19 relief checks to $2,000, meeting President Donald Trump’s demand for bigger payments and sending the bill to the GOP-controlled Senate, where the outcome is highly uncertain.
Democrats led the passage, 275-134, their majority favoring additional assistance, but dozens of Republicans joined in approval. While Democrats favored bigger checks, Congress had settled on $600 payments in a compromise over the big year-end relief bill Trump reluctantly signed into law. The president’s GOP allies opposed more spending, and Trump’s push puts them in a difficult spot.
The vote marks a turn of events from last week, when House Republicans blocked Trump’s demands during a Christmas Eve session. Now, dozens of Republicans preferred to link with Democrats rather than buck the outgoing president. Senators were set to return to session today to consider the measure amid similar, stark GOP divisions.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., declared, “Republicans have a choice: Vote for this legislation or vote to deny the American people the bigger paychecks they need.”
The showdown could end up as more symbol than substance. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has declined to say publicly how the Senate will handle the bill when Senate Democrats try to push it forward for a vote today.
After the robust House vote, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., warned, “There is no good reason for Senate Republicans to stand in the way.”
“There’s strong support for these $2,000 emergency checks from every corner of the country,” Schumer said in a statement. “Leader McConnell ought to make sure Senate Republicans do not stand in the way of helping to meet the needs of American workers and families who are crying out for help.”
The legislative action during the rare holiday-week session may do little to change the $2 trillion-plus covid-19 relief and federal spending package that Trump signed into law Sunday, one of the biggest bills of its kind providing relief for millions of Americans.
That package — $900 billion in covid-19 aid and $1.4 trillion to fund government agencies — will deliver long-sought cash to businesses and individuals and avert a federal government shutdown that otherwise would have started today, in the midst of the public health crisis.
But the outcome will put a spotlight on the Georgia runoff election Jan. 5, in which two Republican senators are squared off against Democrats in a pair of races that will determine which party controls the Senate next year.
Together with votes Monday and today to override Trump’s veto of a sweeping defense bill, it’s potentially one last confrontation between the president and the Republican Party he leads as he imposes fresh demands and disputes the results of the presidential election. The new Congress is set to be sworn in Sunday.
Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, acknowledged the division and said Congress had already approved ample funds during the covid-19 crisis. “Nothing in this bill helps anybody get back to work,” he said.
Aside from the direct $600 checks to most Americans, the covid-19 portion of the bill revives a weekly pandemic jobless benefit boost — this time $300, through March 14 — as well as a Paycheck Protection Program of grants to businesses to keep workers on payrolls. It also extends eviction protections and adds a new rental assistance fund.
The covid-19 package also expands on earlier efforts from Washington: It offers billions of dollars for vaccine purchases and distribution, for virus contact tracing, public health departments, schools, universities, farmers, food pantry programs and other institutions and groups facing hardship in the pandemic.
Americans earning up to $75,000 will qualify for the direct $600 payments, which are phased out at higher income levels, and there’s an additional $600 payment per dependent child.
Meanwhile, the government funding portion of the bill keeps federal agencies nationwide running without dramatic changes until Sept. 30.
Democrats are promising more aid to come once President-elect Joe Biden takes office, but Republicans are signaling a wait-and-see approach.
Biden told reporters at an event in Wilmington, Del., that he supported the $2,000 checks.
Trump’s sudden decision to sign the bill came as he faced escalating criticism from lawmakers on all sides over his eleventh-hour demands. The bipartisan bill negotiated by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had passed the House and Senate by wide margins. Lawmakers had thought they had Trump’s blessing after months of negotiations with his administration.
The president’s defiant refusal to act, publicized with a heated video he tweeted just before the Christmas holiday, sparked chaos, a lapse in unemployment benefits for millions and the threat of a government shutdown in the pandemic. It was a crisis of his own making, resolved when he ultimately signed the bill into law.
In his statement about the signing, Trump repeated his frustrations with the covid-19 relief bill for providing only $600 checks to most Americans and complained about what he considered unnecessary spending, particularly on foreign aid — much of it proposed by his own budget.
While the president insisted he would send Congress “a redlined version” with spending items he wants removed, those are merely suggestions to Congress. Democrats said they would resist such cuts.
For now, the administration can only begin work sending out the $600 payments.
A day after the signing, Trump was back at the golf course in Florida, the state where he is expected to move after Biden is sworn in Jan. 20.
Most House Republicans simply shrugged off Trump’s push, 130 of them voting to reject the higher checks that would add $467 billion in costs. Another 20 House Republicans — including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., a Trump confidant — skipped the vote, despite pandemic procedures that allow lawmakers to vote by proxy to avoid travel to the Capitol. McCarthy was recovering at home from elbow surgery, his office said.
Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., a conservative who supported Trump’s challenge of the election results, counted himself Monday among the opponents of a more generous relief package and Trump’s call for higher payments.
“It’s money we don’t have, we have to borrow to get and we can’t afford to pay back,” he said on “Fox and Friends.”
But Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York said she was open to the idea of $2,000 checks. “Many Americans are in dire need of relief,” she said on the show.
Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark., was the only Arkansan to vote in support of the larger checks.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration is scrambling to send the $600 one-time stimulus payments to millions of Americans starting as soon as this week.
The schedule corresponds with Mnuchin’s earlier promise — a plan thrown into turmoil when Trump initially refused to sign the stimulus package.
The Treasury Department is able to move more swiftly than usual to deposit checks into Americans’ bank accounts as a result of its work this spring, when it disbursed larger sums under the previous stimulus program. Americans who get their federal tax refunds through direct deposit were among the first to receive their payments; those receiving paper checks had a longer wait.
The electronic deposits could go out Wednesday and Thursday in large tranches, said a senior official at the Internal Revenue Service, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the agency’s early plans. It remains unclear, however, if other obstacles might cause delays — particularly given the holiday week and its impact on staffing at major banks. A senior Treasury official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed that the agency was sticking to the same targeted timeline as Mnuchin recently outlined — but signaled that the timing could change.
The last-minute rush to send the stimulus checks reflects the gargantuan task facing the government as it aims to deliver new financial assistance quickly enough to avert a deeper dip in a battered U.S. economy.
The uncertainty about the programs reflects the urgent circumstances of the country’s recent economic decline. Many labor groups, businesses and state and local governments had pleaded with Congress and the White House since the summer to strike a deal on new stimulus funds. Programs authorized under the government’s last relief package, the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act — also known as the CARES Act — began to expire in July.
The Treasury Department and IRS say they can move swiftly after ironing out all the glitches they encountered implementing the CARES Act in the spring. Since then, more Americans have filed their tax returns electronically, meaning the government is expected to issue far fewer paper checks, according to the senior IRS official. Those who do receive checks are likely to see Trump’s name printed on them, similar to what occurred earlier this year, the source added.
In addition to the emergency relief funds, the newly enacted law directs the government to appropriate $20 billion for coronavirus testing and $8 billion for vaccine distribution. It allocates $13 billion in fresh money to help families afford food and $10 billion to help parents cover the cost of child care. There is new aid to boost arts programs and expand the availability of high-speed internet access. And lawmakers set aside billions more to ensure that families can stay in their homes — and transit agencies could literally keep the trains running on time.
Even the mere availability of relief already appeared to offer the economy a slight jolt Monday, as Southwest Airlines announced that it would not need to slash its workforce or reduce wages after Trump opted to sign the legislation. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 204 points, or 0.7%, as investors cheered the prospect of stimulus-aided economic growth.
Information for this article was contributed by Lisa Mascaro, Jill Colvin and Andrew Taylor of The Associated Press; and by Tony Romm, Rachel Siegel and Lisa Rein of The Washington Post.
President Donald Trump’s motorcade drives to Trump International Golf Club, Monday, Dec. 28, 2020, in West Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
President Donald Trump rides in a motorcade vehicle as he departs his Mar-a-Lago resort, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020, in Palm Beach, Fla. Trump is en route to Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
FILE – In this Nov. 8, 2020, file photo, a woman wears a Biden-Harris campaign shirt as she and others gather at the Lincoln Memorial at sunrise, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, the morning after incumbent President Donald Trump was defeated by his Democratic challenger President-elect Joe Biden. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
President Donald Trump rides in a motorcade vehicle as he departs Trump International Golf Club, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020, in West Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
President Donald Trump’s motorcade departs Trump International Golf Club, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020, in West Palm Beach, Fla. Trump is returning to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
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