WASHINGTON — The $2,000 direct payments to Americans that were passed by the House are going nowhere fast in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Wednesday.
McConnell, R-Ky., blasted the House's CASH Act, which would boost the recently passed stimulus money from $600 to $2,000, and mocked Democrats for calling them "survival checks," arguing that some of the cash goes to families who don't need it.
In his speech on the Senate floor, McConnell also complained about the $464 billion cost of the measure and highlighted the rising national debt — an issue that Republicans have paid little attention to as they cut taxes during President Donald Trump's administration.
The Senate Republican leader's remarks all but guarantee that the $2,000 payments won't become law, at least before the current session expires on Sunday and Congress has to start over in the new year. He objected to a Democratic request to consider the bill as a stand-alone item.
McConnell said the House-passed bill "has no realistic path to quickly pass the Senate," vowing that the chamber would not be "bullied into rushing out more borrowed money" to give to those who don't need it.
The clash comes as McConnell looks for a way to balance competing pressures — demands from Trump to pass the $2,000 checks, an idea Democrats love but which faces opposition from many conservative lawmakers, and political pressure on Georgia's two Republican senators ahead of a crucial runoff election on Tuesday.
Instead, McConnell has introduced a bill that combines $2,000 payments with two unrelated demands from Trump — repeal of an internet liability law and a commission to study voter fraud.
Democrats say he is tacking on those items to ensure the bill fails.
"It's a way to kill the bill. Make no mistake about it," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
And McConnell's bill even faces Republican opposition.
"Unless he would write that better, where you start targeting that relief, I won't support that either," Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., told NBC News.
Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., portrayed McConnell as indifferent to the struggles of American workers and families during the Covid-19 pandemic, calling the $2,000 payments important to help them make ends meet.
"Who is holding up that distribution to the American people? Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans," Pelosi told reporters, adding that she hopes they "will see the light and understand the suffering that is going on in this country."
The House passed the CASH Act on Monday to boost the payments to $2,000 with a two-thirds majority that included 231 Democrats and 44 Republicans.
Marc Goldwein of the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget provided a breakdown of the payments under the legislation:
Apart from McConnell's misgivings, Congress is also on a deadline.
The Senate has begun the process of overriding Trump's veto of the defense authorization bill, which aides say is likely to be completed Saturday due to an objection led by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who refuses to give consent for a speedy vote unless McConnell brings up the CASH Act.
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Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said McConnell's bill was a "pointless gesture" due to the upcoming end to the congressional session on Sunday, arguing that the CASH Act is the only vehicle that can pass and deliver those enhanced payments.
"He knows what he's doing," Durbin said. "It's just a political cover."
Andrew Bates, a spokesman for President-elect Joe Biden's transition team, responded to McConnell on Wednesday evening.
"In this moment of historic crisis and untold economic pain for countless American families, the President-elect supports $2,000 direct payments as passed by the House — a priority with strong backing from both parties," Bates said. "For the hard-working Americans and small businesses who are struggling and need immediate relief, it's imperative that we build on the bipartisan stimulus downpayment."