Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell dubbed the effort to increase direct payments to $2,000 “socialism for rich people,” eliciting an incredulous reaction from Sen. Bernie Sanders as the GOP Senate continued to decline to take up the matter on Thursday.
In his second consecutive day of attacks on the bill, McConnell accused Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of engineering a bill that sends “thousands of dollars to people who don’t need the help.” He also blocked requests from Schumer and Sanders (I-Vt.) to hold votes on the bill this week.
“Borrowing from our grandkids to do socialism for rich people is a terrible way to get help to families who actually need it,” McConnell said of an effort to boost the checks from $600 to $2,000, which is supported by President Donald Trump. “Washington Democrats took President Trump’s suggestion and skewed it so the checks would benefit even more high-earning households.”
McConnell said “socialism for rich people” four times in his speech. Sanders responded in a fiery fashion: “The majority leader helped lead this body to pass Trump’s tax bill. You want to talk about socialism for the rich Mr. Majority Leader?!”
Led by McConnell, many Republicans say the measure the House approved earlier this week delivers too much aid to six-figure earners. The House’s bill would send checks to higher earners more than the two previous rounds of direct payments, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
“Imagine a family of five where the parents earn $250,000 per year and have not seen any income loss this past year. Speaker Pelosi and Senator Sanders want to send them $5,000 from Uncle Sam,” McConnell said.
Sanders retorted that in the bill “virtually nothing goes to the very, very rich. The overwhelming majority of those funds go to the middle class, the working class, low-income people who in the midst of the pandemic are in desperate economic condition.”
Plus, Trump has tweeted supportively of what the House did and some Senate Republicans say they support it. The House is gone until the new Congress is sworn in on Jan. 3.
Schumer joined an effort from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to press McConnell to allow a stand-alone vote on $2,000 stimulus checks in addition to Trump’s demands for an election fraud commission and repealing tech protections for big tech companies. McConnell has rolled the three issues together in one bill, which stands little chance of passing.
“Democrats are willing to vote on all the other issues the Republicans say the president supposedly cares about. Just let us vote on a clean bill for the $2,000 checks,” Schumer said.
In a Thursday morning interview on “Fox & Friends,” Graham assessed that “if you had a stand-alone vote on the $2,000 check, it might pass” the Senate. And although “70 percent of Republicans don’t want to go to 2,000 [dollars],” he said, “I’m with the president on this.”
Trump threw near-finalized coronavirus relief negotiations into a state of confusion last week when he ordered Congress to increase the amount of direct payments to individual Americans to $2,000.
The president also called on lawmakers to establish an election fraud commission and repeal legal protections for social media companies — known as Section 230 — but he ultimately signed the stimulus package over the weekend without securing any of his demands.
The House voted overwhelmingly on Monday to approve $2,000 stimulus checks. McConnell, however, refused a stand-alone vote on the direct payments, instead tying them to Trump’s other two requests — which were viewed as poison pills by Democrats.
On Wednesday, after Trump again insisted upon “$2000 ASAP!” in a tweet, McConnell said the proposal had “no realistic path to quickly pass the Senate” and refused to split the White House’s legislative wish list into separate measures. But that was exactly what Graham pressed the Republican leader to do on Thursday.
“Here’s what I’d like: I’d like a stand-alone vote in the new Congress on the $2,000 check,” Graham said. “We have seven Republicans who’ve already said they would vote for it. We need five more. I think if we had the vote, we would get there.”
The president, Graham added, “wants three things: a commission to investigate fraud, $2,000 checks, and to repeal Section 230. I’m urging Senator McConnell to give a stand-alone vote in the new Congress after January 3rd on all three measures.”
Graham is likely to get little support for the proposal even after the new Congress convenes on Monday. Later Thursday morning, Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin — another top Republican ally of the president — renounced the prospect of $2,000 payments, citing concerns about the national debt and the need for more targeted relief. He also blocked $1,200 payments last week.
“I know it sounds good, it feels good to give away money. Everybody loves benefits,” Johnson told CNBC. “[But] somebody has got to be thinking about … the effect of this on our future generations.”