In a pleasantly surprising late development to end this unpleasantly surprising year, there is suddenly bipartisan momentum in Congress to boost the size of stimulus checks just enacted by Congress and signed by the president from $600 to $2,000. The House voted to do just that at the beginning of the week, clearing the CASH Act by a 275-134 margin, with 44 Republicans joining all but two Democrats. Republicans initially opposed a $2,000 second check, but President Trump is embracing it more and more fervently:
So the ball is back in Mitch McConnell’s Senate court, where Bernie Sanders is holding up consideration of McConnell’s top priority, a vote to override Trump’s veto of the defense-authorization bill, until a vote is scheduled on the CASH Act. There is growing Senate Republican support for the bigger checks, and the most important new supporters happen to be the two senators who are battling for survival in Georgia’s January 5 runoffs, as Axios reports:
“I’ve stood by the president 100% of the time. I’m proud to do that and I’ve said, absolutely, we need to get relief to Americans now and I will support that,” [Kelly] Loeffler said in an interview on Fox News when asked if she will support the measure.
So in the face of pleas from his president and more and more of his own troops, ol’ Mitch may just roll over and schedule a clean vote, right? Wrong — he blocked the Sanders proposal on Tuesday. In doing so, moreover, McConnell very significantly signaled he’s thinking about linking the $2,000 check proposal to additional demands Trump has made on Congress.
That’s putting it mildly. Trump’s efforts to punish social-media platforms for “censoring” his and his supporters’ disinformation aren’t likely to get much sympathy from Democrats, and provisions addressing Trump’s assertions of “voter fraud” could represent a real and prohibitive poison pill. And while Trump has placed most emphasis on support for a big second check, he hasn’t dropped his other demands:
In effect, by blocking a clean vote on an increased stimulus check, McConnell is keeping his options open. He can later let it come to the floor without conditions or with conditions acceptable to Democrats. Or he can effectively kill the idea by inserting it in poison pills that Trump has endorsed but that Democrats won’t accept; Republicans supporting a bigger check aren’t likely also to repudiate Trump’s additional demands. Any move to approve the CASH Act would require 12 Republican votes assuming all the Democrats are onboard. So McConnell retains the flexibility to move in either direction as the 116th Congress winds down (it will end when the 117th Congress is sworn in on January 3). We’ll find out on or shortly after January 5 if Mitch is going to retain or lose control of the Senate. If his reign is truly near its end, it’s fitting he’s going out on a characteristically devious note.