Veto Override, Stimulus Boost Stall in Senate on New Year’s Eve

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell walks back to his office on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON (CN) — As 2020 and President Donald Trump’s single term in office draw to a close, the Senate spent the last day of a tumultuous year debating whether to override his veto of the $740 billion defense spending bill or approve $2,000 stimulus checks, with no real movement on either.

The hours-long debate on Thursday followed a tense day in Congress just 24 hours before, when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell snuffed out, with his single objection, any realistic hope of pandemic-weary Americans receiving a direct relief payment of $2,000, rather than the $600 that has already been approved.

Under Senate procedure, debate will continue Thursday and likely into the evening. It is expected that a final vote on the veto override could come on Friday or even Saturday. Only a simple majority of 60 votes is needed to override Trump’s veto of the defense bill or pass additional relief for Americans.

Bernie Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont who caucuses with Democrats, was joined again on Thursday by Democrats like Chuck Schumer of New York and Dick Durbin of Illinois in a maneuver to delay the Senate’s vote to override Trump’s veto of the defense bill in order to get an up or down vote on the bigger checks.

The House voted to override Trump’s veto of the defense package on Monday, but the Senate must do the same for the bill to become law.

Vowing to object to the vote to override Trump if McConnell would not hold a separate vote on the singular issue of relief payments, Sanders excoriated the Kentucky Republican.

McConnell’s constituents, Sanders said, live in 10 of the 25 poorest counties in America. Like most states, Kentucky has been badly pinched by the Covid-19 pandemic, with unemployment steadily increasing, food insecurity spreading and infection rates continuing to climb.

“I am sure Senator McConnell is aware that throughout his state, you have got thousands, tens of thousands, of people living in economic desperation. And I’m talking about counties where 30% to 40% of residents are trying to survive on less than $20,000 a year,” Sanders said before noting that 22% of all children in McConnell’s state live in poverty. “Do you think they might need a little bit of help?”

Despite pleading from Democrats for a simple up or down vote on stimulus checks, the majority leader was unmoved. 

McConnell insists that legislation approving $2,000 stimulus checks be combined with two of Trump’s pet issues – a repeal of liability protections for tech companies under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and the formation of a commission to investigate the White House’s baseless allegations of voter fraud in the 2020 election.

The Department of Justice already found no fraud in the November election and that opinion was shared by the U.S. intelligence community.

Speaking from the Senate floor Thursday, McConnell said he would not consider voting on direct payments alone because the relief would not be targeted enough and money could potentially flow to those who may not need it, which he argued would unnecessarily inflate the national deficit.

“Socialism for rich people is a terrible way to help the American families that are actually struggling. So, let me say that again: Borrowing from our grandkids to do socialism for rich people is a terrible way to get help to families who actually need it,” McConnell said.

The House voted Monday to pass the CASH Act, which would send $2,000 to each individual making less than $75,000 and $4,000 to each married couple jointly earning $150,000 or less. The IRS is currently in the process of sending out the previously approved $600 payments to individuals and $1,200 for couples who filed a joint tax return.

McConnell’s assertions about unfair distribution were seized upon on Thursday by Schumer and Sanders alike, with both lawmakers noting that the majority leader’s qualms about socialism for the wealthy were missing in action when the Senate approved President Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in 2017. That bill delivered a $1.9 trillion tax break to corporations and for the nation’s most wealthy citizens.   

The slight from Democrats was not just a partisan barb. The independent Congressional Research Service confirmed in a 22-page report last June that the tax breaks had little positive effect on the U.S. economy. Instead, they came at the expense of working and middle-class families.

“I hope that every American heard the objections by these Republicans senators. I hope every American who has their water or heat or electricity shut off or had eviction notices stapled on top of one another to their door, or had to choose which meal to skip on a given day – I hope they all heard the reason they will not receive $2,000 checks is because Leader McConnell thinks it could wind up in the hands of quote ‘Democrats’ rich friends,’’ Schumer said.

Repeated offers from Schumer, Durbin and Sanders on Thursday to break apart McConnell’s proposed combo legislation failed repeatedly.

“Trump couldn’t care less about how the bills are packaged,” Schumer said.

If the incoming Congress wants to reevaluate liability shields for companies online, they can in the new session, just days away, Schumer said. The New York Democrat even offered to hold a vote on Section 230 repeal or “whatever right-wing conspiracy theory” Republicans wanted considered.

All Democrats were asking the majority leader for was a simple vote on the stimulus checks in the “world’s greatest deliberative body,” he said.  

As of the final day of 2020, nearly 20 million Americans have been infected with Covid-19 and over 340,000 have died, according to a Johns Hopkins University tracker.

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