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House Democrats Schedule Christmas Eve Vote on $2,000 Stimulus Checks, Testing Senate Republicans

  • House Democrats ask for unanimous consent on standalone bill to increase $600 direct payments in a recently approved stimulus bill to $2,000
  • President Donald Trump unexpectedly sent the legislation back to Congress with a demand for higher direct payments after denouncing several components of the bill and appropriations packaged with it
  • Vote seeks to put pressure on Republicans to grant Trump’s request

House Democrats are planning to vote on a standalone bill on Christmas Eve to grant President Donald Trump’s demand that direct payments in a $900 billion economic stimulus package be increased from $600 to $2,000. The vote aims to salvage the legislation after Trump unexpectedly punted it while also pressuring Republicans, who have been largely averse to higher spending on economic stimulus bills, to heed Trump’s call.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a letter to Democratic members that a pro forma vote is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Thursday. She said the vote will ask for unanimous consent on the bill, an action which would require the agreement of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. A single member could block unanimous consent by opposing the measure, forcing a roll call vote; the bill would also have to pass muster in the Senate.

Pelosi also urged Trump to approve the stimulus, which provides additional relief to households and businesses as the COVID-19 pandemic persists, as well as a $1.4 trillion appropriations bill with which it is packaged. Two federal unemployment programs with approximately 12 million beneficiaries are set to expire on Saturday, and Trump must approve legislation funding the government by midnight on Monday to avoid a shutdown.

Congress is currently not scheduled to reconvene until Dec. 29. Many members have already departed Washington for the holiday.

Trump was widely expected to sign the stimulus bill, which includes $600 direct payments for adults as well as minor dependents, small business support including $284 billion for a new Paycheck Protection Program, and 11 weeks of supplemental $300 unemployment benefits. Instead, he announced via Twitter that he was dissatisfied with the bill and sending it back to Congress.

A standalone measure increasing direct payments only meets one of the demands Trump put forward. He also called for additional funding for small businesses, citing restaurants in particular, and for the elimination of “wasteful and unnecessary items” in the appropriations bill.

McCarthy cited the latter demand in a letter to House Republicans responding to Pelosi’s request, saying Pelosi “conveniently ignored the concerns expressed by the President, and shared by our constituents, that we ought to examine how our tax dollars are being spent overseas while so many of our neighbors at home are struggling to make ends meet.” He said Republicans will introduce a unanimous consent request to revisit the State and Foreign Operations title of the appropriations bill.

Several proposals for additional stimulus have sought to repeat the $1,200 direct payments introduced in the CARES Act, which was passed at the start of the pandemic. However, these were never brought before the Senate for consideration, and a $500 billion proposal repeatedly pushed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell omitted any payments.

A $908 billion bipartisan proposal that formed the nucleus of the new stimulus legislation did not include direct payments. The $600 direct payments were worked in after being pitched by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Trump’s demand for additional stimulus presents a challenge for Senate Republicans, who have often been averse to larger spending on stimulus bills out of concern for increasing the deficit. One projection holds that if direct payments to adults increase to $2,000 while the $600 per minor dependent payments are retained, it would cost $482 billion – nearly triple the amount of money currently appropriated for this purpose.

Democratic candidates in two runoff elections for Senate in Georgia have also joined the call for higher stimulus payments while accusing their opponents of favoring less relief. Jon Ossof and Raphael Warnock have made COVID-19 relief a central tenet in their campaigns, arguing that their election will be instrumental in supporting further stimulus efforts under President-elect Joe Biden.

The Senate would be evenly split if Ossof and Warnock are victorious over GOP opponents David Purdue and Kelly Loeffler are elected. Control of the chamber would tip to Democrats since incoming Vice President Kamala Harris casts any tie-breaking votes.

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