- The latest stimulus check update from Congress may materialize soon, depending on whether Democrats decide to ram President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief plan through Congress or to make concessions in an attempt to win bipartisanship.
- Democrats have a clear majority in the House of Representatives, while they only enjoy the slimmest of majorities in the Senate — thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’ ability to cast a tie-breaking vote.
- Accordingly, under Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the party has prepared a few hundred amendments and teed them up for votes on Thursday, in an effort to keep Democrats from being able to steamroll the Biden stimulus plan through Congress.
While everyone awaits the next official stimulus check update — presumably, that Congress has passed a third wave of stimulus checks, this time under President Biden — some historical context might be in order to help put the current showdown in Congress into perspective.
Under President Trump, Congress passed more than $3 trillion in COVID relief. That includes the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, which lawmakers passed and President Trump signed into law toward the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic last year. It was the measure that included the first round of $1,200 stimulus checks. In December, Congress also rushed through another $900 billion COVID relief package as Trump’s time in office was winding down — that time approving a new round of $600 stimulus checks. Now, not only have Republicans in Congress been arguing from day one of the Biden administration that he wants to pass way too much COVID stimulus (Biden’s bill has a $1.9 trillion price tag), but the GOP has a new plan to fight tooth and nail to keep that from happening.
In these early days of his administration, President Biden has made at least an overt show of saying how much “unity” and bipartisanship are important ideals to him — ideals at least worth striving for, if they don’t necessarily come to fruition. Biden’s $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan” is his first real test of this. Republicans loathe the price tag associated with the plan, and they likewise think the plan’s included $1,400 stimulus checks are too generous and would be sent to too many people.
The challenge facing the president is whether to make concessions to win GOP votes, at the expense of watering down what he think this stimulus package needs to be. Or whether he takes advantage of the Democrats’ majorities in both houses of Congress and just ram the plan through. Hawaii Democratic Senator Brian Schatz, for his part, thinks the “how” is less important than just getting this done at all:
Regular people don’t care whether we pass something with 51 or 60 votes. It’s a pandemic and the largest economic contraction in 90 years. We must ignore those who call anything a Republican proposes a compromise, and anything a Democrat proposes partisan. We have to deliver.
— Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) January 31, 2021
Democrats in Congress have set themselves up to do what needs to be done to pass Biden’s stimulus plan via a complex process known as reconciliation, whereby they can move the bill through Congress without needing as many votes as they would through the normal process. One downside to this is that Republicans — who have 50 seats in the upper chamber, as do Democrats, with Vice President Kamala Harris representing the tie-breaking vote — are treating this as an antagonistic move.
Accordingly, Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has teed up a wave of amendments to the Democrat’s budget resolution, essentially hoping to gum up the works so Biden’s allies can’t ram his package through Congress. By Wednesday night, according to Roll Call, at least 400 amendments had been prepared, ahead of a kind of “vote-a-palooza” on all this starting Thursday.
We’ve heard a lot of talk about unity, but White House staff and congressional Democrats are working from the opposite playbook. Senate Republicans will be ready and waiting with a host of amendments to improve the rushed procedural step that’s being jammed through. pic.twitter.com/HjAPLAg2Ae
— Leader McConnell (@LeaderMcConnell) February 3, 2021
All of which is to say, Biden may yet get his wish and see this stimulus plan passed right out of the gate — and perhaps even without a watering-down of the component of the plan involving $1,400 stimulus checks — but Republicans have made it clear that won’t happen without re-litigating some old ideological fights first. “We’ll be getting senators on the record about whether taxpayers should fund checks for illegal immigrants, whether Democrats should raise taxes on small businesses in the midst of this historic crisis, and whether generous federal funding should pour into school districts where the unions refuse to let schools open,” McConnell said.
Complicating this fight over stimulus and a new round of checks even more is the fact that Republicans can also point to at least some of the latest COVID trends in the US as proving there’s not the same pandemic-related urgency as there was at this time last year. Over the past week, for example, coronavirus infections are down almost 16% in the US. At the same time, that argument is somewhat myopic, in that the staggering level of economic destruction left in the wake of the COVID pandemic remains. Whole swaths of industry sectors in the US still have yet to recover, including everything from hospitality — with hotels and airlines having been ruthlessly battered by the collapse in customer demand — to restaurants, and so much more.