McConnell blocks vote on $2,000 stimulus checks

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaking at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. Photo by Gage Skidmore.

WASHINGTON — U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday blocked a vote on increased stimulus checks to people struggling amid the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The U.S. House of Representatives approved a measure Monday evening to send $2,000 stimulus checks to many Americans, embracing a call from President Donald Trump to more than triple the direct payments in the massive coronavirus relief package signed into law Sunday night.

But McConnell (R-Ky.) moved to shut the door on a push by Senate Democrats for an immediate vote on approving $2,000 checks. 

On the Senate floor Tuesday, McConnell noted Trump’s calls not only for the larger checks but also for action on two other matters: a repeal of liability protections for social-media companies, and an investigation into the integrity of the November election.

“Those are the three important subjects the president has linked together,” he said. “This week, the Senate will begin a process to bring these three priorities into focus.”

During negotiations over additional pandemic relief measures, the GOP majority had balked at repeating the $1,200 payments sent this spring when unemployment rolls surged nationally. Instead, the $900 billion, bipartisan coronavirus relief bill that passed Congress last week included $600 checks to Americans who earn up to $75,000, with additional payments for dependent children and partial payments to those earning above that amount.   

After that measure was approved, Trump suddenly dismissed those direct payments as too low, and called on Congress to approve $2,000 checks. Democrats quickly supported that call, saying they had sought more aid to those struggling amid the pandemic.

“I did support the legislation that included the $600 stimulus checks because that was all that we could get the other side to agree to,” said Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) during Monday’s floor debate. “But it’s obviously not enough.”

The bill to boost the relief payments cleared the House on a vote of 275-134 on Monday, with 44 Republicans joining all but two Democrats in support.  

Arizona’s House delegation voted strictly along party lines. Democratic Reps. Ruben Gallego, Raul Grijalva, Ann Kirkpatrick, Tom O’Halleran and Greg Stanton voted for the increased payments, while Republican Reps. Andy Biggs, Paul Gosar, Debbie Lesko and David Schweikert voted against the proposal.

House Republicans blocked an attempt last week by Democrats to fast-track larger stimulus checks. But in his signing statement Sunday evening, Trump repeated his call for $2,000 checks, declaring that “much more money is coming.”

Increasing those $600 checks to $2,000 would cost $464 billion, according to an analysis from the Joint Committee on Taxation, which prepares cost estimates for Congress. That’s roughly half of the cost of the overall relief package passed last week.

“Do we really think the way to improve the quality of life for many Americans is to just print more money from the Fed?” Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.) asked.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of GOP leadership, told reporters last week that he did not believe a bill on $2,000 stimulus checks would clear the Senate’s 60-vote threshold.

But several Senate Republicans have signaled that they would support it, including Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who said in a statement Monday that Congress should quickly approve the larger checks.

“I share many of my colleagues’ concern about the long-term effects of additional spending, but we cannot ignore the fact that millions of working class families across the nation are still in dire need of relief,” Rubio said.

Jeremy Duda contributed to this report.

Laura Olson
Laura covers the nation's capital as a senior reporter for States Newsroom, a network of nonprofit outlets that includes Arizona Mirror. Her areas of coverage include politics and policy, lobbying, elections, and campaign finance.