Stimulus Check Showdown: Sanders Demands $1,200 Payments While White House Pushes For $600 Check Compromise
Stimulus checks are again a hot-button issue in Washington as lawmakers race to reach an agreement on a $908 billion stimulus framework that does not currently provide another round of direct payments to Americans.
In a letter first obtained by Politico, Sen. Sanders, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said the $908 billion plan “does not go anywhere near far enough” to address the urgent needs of the country during the pandemic.
The framework, which has been endorsed by top Democrats, President-elect Biden and some GOP lawmakers, excluded a second round of direct payments to make the overall cost of the legislation more palatable to Senate Republicans.
Sen. Sanders and the other cosigners encouraged their colleagues to demand that another round of $1,200 checks be added to the framework and voiced their opposition to a liability shield for businesses that is likely to be included in the package.
Another round of $1,200 checks would add about $300 billion to the cost of the bill, top Democrat Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said in a Sunday interview on ABC’s This Week.
Meanwhile, the White House is encouraging Senate Republicans to include a provision for $600 stimulus checks in the new rescue legislation, the Washington Post reported Tuesday.
“We agree with President-elect Biden that a $1,200 direct payment should be included in this proposal,” the letter from Sen. Sanders and his fellow progressive senators reads. “We also feel strongly that we should not provide immunity to corporations who endanger the health and lives of their employees.”
On the other side of the aisle, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) has said he will not vote for any relief proposal that does not include direct payments and has even urged President Trump to veto the bill if they are not included, Politico reported Monday.
As the time remaining to draft and pass another coronavirus rescue bill before Congress’ next holiday recess runs short, lawmakers are faced with three critical roadblocks in negotiations: another round of stimulus checks, liability protections and state and local aid. While there was a general consensus in Washington last spring and summer that another round of direct payments would be necessary, the three most recent GOP plans have not included them (Democratic proposals have). The liability issue has been a sticking point in negotiations for months. It’s a major priority for Republicans, who see it as essential to encourage businesses to reopen, and a difficult pill to swallow for progressives, who describe it in the letter as “a get-out-of-jail free card to companies that put the lives of their workers and customers at risk.” Lawmakers also remain divided (as they have been since the spring) over additional federal aid to state and local governments, which Democrats see as essential to avoid layoffs of government employees and protect essential services. Republicans—including President Trump—have cast more federal aid as a “bailout” to poorly run Democrat-controlled localities.
What We Don’t Know
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) Tuesday proposed dropping both state and local aid and the liability shield from the plan until next year so lawmakers can pass a package quickly with provisions they can agree on, CNN’s Manu Raju reported. It’s a major change for McConnell, who once called the liability shield a “red line” issue in negotiations, but it’s not yet clear whether that compromise will be acceptable to Democrats who have long prioritized additional state and local aid.
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