US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has all but shut the door on President Donald Trump’s push for $2,000 COVID-19 relief cheques, declaring Congress has provided enough pandemic support.
- Republican leader says Senate would consider “smart targeted aid” if required
- President Donald Trump has lost an argument with Republicans even president-elect Joe Biden supported
- Republicans warn refusal to provide more aid could jeopardise Georgia Senate runoffs
The Republican leader made clear he is unwilling to budge, despite political pressure from Mr Trump and even some fellow Republican senators demanding action.
Mr Trump wanted a recently agreed-upon $US600 ($778) in aid increased to $US2,000 ($2,594).
The bill outlining the initial payments was passed by Congress on Monday, but a second vote on the larger sum was not held in the Senate despite requests from Democrats and it passing the House of Representatives.
Mr McConnell dismissed the idea of bigger “survival cheques”, saying the money would go to plenty of American households that do not need it.
Mr McConnell’s refusal to take the measure to a vote means the additional relief the President wanted is all but dead.
“We just approved almost a trillion dollars in aid a few days ago,” Mr McConnell said, referring to the end-of-year package Mr Trump signed into law.
He said the Senate would consider “smart targeted aid” if it was required.
The showdown between the outgoing President and his own Republican Party over the $US2,000 cheques threw Congress into a chaotic session just days before new members of congress were to be sworn into office.
Mr Trump has been berating GOP leaders and tweeted: “$2,000 ASAP!”
Lack of support for extra aid could sway Georgia Senate vote
President-elect Joe Biden supported the payments and wants to build on what he calls a “down payment” on relief.
“In this moment of historic crisis and untold economic pain for countless American families, the president-elect supports $US2,000 direct payments as passed by the House,” Mr Biden transition spokesman Andrew Bates said.
For the second day in a row, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer tried to force a vote on the bill approved by the House.
With the Georgia Senate runoff elections days away, leading Republicans warned that the GOP’s refusal to provide more aid as the virus worsens, could jeopardise the outcome of those races.
Georgia’s GOP senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler are trying to fend off Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock in runoff elections that will determine which party has the Senate majority.
The two Republicans support Mr Trump’s call for more generous payments.
“The Senate Republicans risk throwing away two seats and control of the Senate,” Newt Gingrich, a former congressional leader, said on Fox News.
New bill could be taken to Senate
Earlier, Mr McConnell had unveiled a new bill loaded up with Mr Trump’s other priorities as a possible off-ramp for the stalemate.
It included the $US2,000 cheques more narrowly targeted to lower-income households as well as a complicated repeal of protections for technology companies like Facebook and Twitter under Section 230 of a communications law that the President complained is unfair to conservatives.
It also tacked on the establishment of a bipartisan commission to review the 2020 presidential election Mr Trump lost to president-elect Joe Biden.
If Mr McConnell sets a vote on his bill, it could revive Mr Trump’s priorities.
But because the approach contains additional tech and elections provisions, Democrats and some Republicans will likely baulk at that, making it unlikely to have enough support in Congress to pass.
Americans earning up to $US75,000 ($97,309) will qualify for the direct $US600 payments, which are phased out at higher income levels, and there is an additional $US600 payment per dependent child.