Republicans, Democrats, and the White House are still unable to resolve the key sticking points in the stimulus negotiations, and the disarray has created a somewhat unlikely alliance: Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) came together and introduced an amendment adding stimulus checks to funding legislation needed to prevent a government shutdown.
“In this moment of economic crises, we have got to do everything that we can do to restore faith that this government works for ordinary people,” Sanders, a Democratic socialist icon, said from the Senate floor on Thursday evening. “Let us do the right thing, let us pass this amendment in a bipartisan way.”
Hawley, a self-described "constitutional conservative" Republican, introduced The Emergency Direct Payments for Families and Workers Act to propose a second round of stimulus checks with size and eligibility criteria similar to the first one. Under the CARES Act, around 160 million Americans received a stimulus payment of up to $1,200 — plus $500 for any child dependent — amounting to over $270 billion out of the $2.2 trillion relief package passed in March. Sanders co-introduced the amendment.
“I've heard some of my colleagues say that there just isn't enough left for working families that once we take care of our other priorities and COVID relief there just isn't enough left to give direct assistance to individuals,” Hawley said from the Senate floor on Thursday evening. “I want to respectfully suggest that those priorities are exactly reversed.”
Despite the bipartisan gesture, a stand-alone deal likely does not have enough votes to become law if a bigger deal on stimulus is not reached.
“My own view on Sen. Hawley’s proposal, particularly if it earns a veto threat out of the White House, is that it makes an already fraught and complicated negotiation more complicated and therefore less likely,” Gordon Gray, director of fiscal policy at the American Action Forum, a conservative think tank, told Yahoo Money. “They’re costly, and if Republicans want to hold the line on cost and find consensus with Democrats, they crowd out other priorities.”
Two of the main proposals on the negotiating table — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) around $500 billion package and the Democrat-backed $908 billion bipartisan proposal — don’t include a provision on direct payments. The White House’s $916 billion proposal is the only one that includes the provision but leaves out supplemental unemployment benefits, which Democratic leaders called “unacceptable.”
‘No financial help from this proposal’
Democrats including Sanders, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) have called for a second round of stimulus checks.
In a statement on Friday, Sanders called the bipartisan proposal “unacceptable” because it “does not even do what the CARES Act did and provide, at the very least, a $1,200 direct payment to working class Americans and $500 for their kids.”
“Tens of millions of Americans living in desperation today would receive absolutely no financial help from this proposal,” Sanders said. “That is not acceptable.”
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Hawley is not the only Republican supporting the provision. So are Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), among others.
Both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) have said that the stimulus deal would be attached to the legislation needed in the next two weeks to avert a partial government shutdown.
Up to 12 million Americans are expected to lose unemployment benefits coverage when two programs enacted under the CARES Act, the massive pandemic stimulus legislation passed in March, expire on December 26. The federal eviction moratorium, paid sick leave, aid to state and local governments, among other relief, also will lapse.
“We will not leave this town until we have voted, up or down, on direct relief for working people,” Hawley said from the Senate floor on Thursday evening.