WASHINGTON (CN) — House lawmakers voted Monday to increase coronavirus relief payments from $600 to $2,000, but the legislation could hit a roadblock in the Republican-controlled Senate.
The CASH Act – short for Caring for Americans With Supplemental Help – more than triples the direct payments that were included in the $900 billion stimulus package passed last week. The measure passed in a 275-134 vote late Monday.
The increase would cost another $300 billion if it clears the Senate and is signed by President Trump – $464 billion compared to $164 billion for the $600 checks to people making up to $75,000 a year.
President Donald Trump demanded the larger checks last Tuesday in a 14-minute video posted to Facebook after hiding that recording session from the majority of White House aides, according to the Associated Press.
Two days later, House Democrats sought to approve the president’s request by unanimous consent, but were blocked from doing so by Republicans. It only took one objection from Republican Rob Wittman of Virginia to sink the voice vote.
Whether Trump would sign or veto the Covid-19 relief legislation – which was paired with an omnibus package to fund the federal government – remained a mystery throughout the weekend.
Departing for his Mar-a-Lago golf resort in Florida last Wednesday evening, the president gave no indication of his decision, after vetoing a defense spending bill hours before.
“I will sign the Omnibus and Covid package with a strong message that makes clear to Congress that wasteful items need to be removed,” Trump said in a statement.
The fate of the new bill bumping checks up to $2,000 is unclear in the Senate. Just two weeks ago, Senator Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, balked at the idea of approving a $1,200 direct payment to most families, signaling a higher amount would be unlikely to get the backing of Republicans in that chamber.
Some House Republicans broke with Trump on Monday, rejecting the larger payments. Congressman Kevin Brady, a Texas Republican, said during a floor debate that lawmakers should instead pass targeted relief going to main streets, “truly stimulating our local economy.”
Some Democrats also split with their party on the new bill, including Congressman Kurt Schrader of Oregon, who said the bill was an “ineffective and poorly targeted approach to aiding Americans in distress.”
“It is clearly a last-minute political maneuver by the president and extremists on both sides of the political spectrum, who have been largely absent during months of very hard negotiations,” Schrader said. “They have chosen to tweet their opinions instead of coming to the table to get aide in the hands of Americans and small businesses that need it most.”
Democratic Representative Al Green of Texas said at some point “on the infinite continuum we call time,” every member would have to account for their decisions regarding the Covid-19 pandemic. Lawmakers had ordered state governments closed as a result of a pandemic, so lawmakers should put money in the hands of Americans, Green said.
“What did you do when you had the opportunity to put money in the pockets of people who needed it?” Green said. “Where was your courage when you had the chance to cast the vote to make a difference in the lives of people?”
Congressman Richard Neal, a Massachusetts Democrat who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, introduced the legislation on Christmas Eve, and said he had been thinking of Jacob Marley’s ghastly warning to Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol” about his path of redemption.
He said Christmases past resulted in one of the largest tax cuts in American history three years ago, slashing corporate and individual rates, mostly for wealthy Americans. And now the Christmas present includes millions of Americans out of work, 19 million infected with Covid-19 and more than 330,000 dead from the respiratory disease.
“But for the Christmas future, Marley warned Ebenezer Scrooge there was a way for redemption and that was through a new generosity and a new kindness,” Neal said Monday. “And we could emulate that here, this afternoon, by raising that impact payment from $600 to $2,000. The miracle of this season would remain the triumph of light for those who desperately need our assistance.”