WASHINGTON — Democrats want another round of direct stimulus payments to Americans up to $1,200 as coronavirus cases rise in dozens of states. President Donald Trump isn’t ruling it out. But Senate Republicans are on the fence or opposed, complicating its prospects.
"I wasn't supportive of the first round. I don't think I'd be supportive of the second," said Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis. "This is not a classic recession that requires financial stimulus."
House Democrats have passed a $3 trillion bill that includes another round of direct deposits and checks. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has endorsed that bill nudged Senate Republicans on Thursday to "get off their hands and finally work with Democrats to quickly provide additional federal fiscal relief."
When asked about Trump’s interest in a second round of payments, Senate Majority Whip Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said Republicans are divided on whether to send more money to Americans.
"About direct payments or some of the checks — that’s something he's talked about, and some of our members are interested in that as well. There are some of our members who aren’t interested in that, so we'll see where that goes," the South Dakota Republican said.
Thune said Republicans would still need to agree "on a number" and other components of it.
The Senate left on Thursday for a two-week recess.
Coronavirus cases have risen in states such as Florida, Texas, Arizona and California, and numerous states have paused or rolled back their reopening. The state of the economy over those two weeks is likely to impact the Senate Republican calculus.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., outlined three broad priorities for the next coronavirus relief bill: "Kids, jobs and health care." He said he wants it to pass before August, which leaves just two weeks to act once the Senate returns from break July 20.
Asked by Fox Business Network if he favors another round of direct payments, Trump said, "I do. I support it. But it has to be done properly." He then segued to discussing unemployment insurance.
Asked again if he wants more direct payments, Trump responded, "I want the money getting to people to be larger so they can spend it," before saying he doesn’t want it to be "an incentive not to go to work," an apparent reference to the $600 weekly jobless benefit in the CARES Act that Republicans don't want to extend.
Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., said the "direct stimulus checks are going to depend on how the economy is doing" and noted the "great unemployment numbers" of June, when the rate fell to 11.1 percent.
"So if it turns out the economy is recovering, that's a good thing and direct stimulus checks may not be necessary," he added.
Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., said the Senate will "talk seriously and in earnest when we get back" about what might be in the next relief bill, mentioning the rising debt as a concern for the GOP.
"If there is another bill, it will be targeted," Kennedy said. "Hopefully, we'll learn from our first three bills in terms of what works and what doesn't. The subtext, or the undercurrent, here, at least on my side of the aisle, is the fact that we owe $25 trillion and climbing."
The first round of stimulus payments cost $293 billion, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
Surveys show they're popular among voters as the Nov. 3 general election nears. A CNBC/Change Research poll conducted in early May found 74 percent approval for sustained direct payments in the 2020 battleground states of Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
An FT-Peterson US Economic Monitor poll showed that 76 percent of Americans say an additional payment is "very" or "somewhat" important to them, while 24 percent said it was not. The results were nearly identical when limited to battleground states.
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, who faces a competitive re-election battle this fall, was noncommittal when asked about another round of stimulus checks and direct deposits.
"We need to look at it, the jobs numbers," she told NBC News. "I want to see Iowa and how we're doing at getting folks back to work. And we'll take it from there."