Senate Republicans and President Trump are facing off over a new round of COVID-19 stimulus checks, with GOP senators warning Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Tuesday to mind the mounting federal deficit.
Trump views the $1,200 “economic impact payment” checks that featured his name prominently as a political and economic winner. Many GOP senators, on the other hand, think a second round would be a huge waste of money.
Sen. Pat Toomey (Pa.) was one of several Republican senators who warned Mnuchin about the rising red ink at a Tuesday lunch. The deficit is projected to hit $3.7 trillion in 2020, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
“I expressed a lot of skepticism about the wisdom about doing another big spending bill,” Toomey, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, said after the meeting.
He said another round of $1,200 checks doesn’t make sense as the economy starts to reopen after the lockdowns in March and April.
“I’m a skeptic about the idea of doing that. That was an emergency measure taken when we were in a full-blown crisis and, frankly, knew it was wildly inefficient because all kinds of people were getting checks whose work was not jeopardized,” he said.
Toomey said many recipients of the checks “didn’t have any lost income” or were government employees or retirees.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said several of his colleagues spoke up at the meeting and “urged caution moving forward.”
“We want to make sure the next round of assistance is targeted at those who need it the most,” he said.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) said Senate GOP concerns about the ballooning deficit were “well covered” at the meeting.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), another member of the Finance panel, said the round of $1,200 checks “was necessary at the beginning” of the crisis when people might have had to wait for state and federal unemployment benefits to catch up with the massive spike in layoffs and furloughs in March and April.
“I don’t see the compelling need” for another round now, he said.
Cornyn is instead pushing for legislation to provide tax relief to the oil and gas industries, which were hit hard by this year’s economic slowdown.
Trump told Scripps local TV news on Monday that he plans to send out another round of checks.
“Yeah, we are. We are,” he said. “We will be doing another stimulus package. It’ll be very good. It’ll be very generous.”
Mnuchin, walking into the Senate Republican lunch Tuesday, confirmed that another round of rebate checks is on the table.
“It will be one of the things we’re discussing,” he told reporters.
Mnuchin, however, did not make a pitch for the checks at the lunch, according to two GOP senators who attended.
The Treasury secretary told senators the administration’s goal is to get another coronavirus relief bill passed through Congress by the end of July, according to Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who attended the meeting.
Congress has already appropriated nearly $3 trillion to respond to the pandemic, a significant portion of which has yet to be spent.
Trump and Mnuchin may be able to circumvent GOP opposition to a second round of checks by cutting a deal with Democratic leaders.
The $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill the House passed last month — the HEROES Act — includes a second round of $1,200 checks, which the legislation would also extend to unauthorized immigrants that have Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Minority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), the two top-ranking Senate Democrats, have expressed support for another wave of stimulus checks.
“Nancy Pelosi’s bill extends it to American citizens who have someone who is undocumented in their household, I believe. I think that’s the only significant difference. I support that change,” Durbin said Tuesday.
Mnuchin and Senate Republicans focused on other proposals during their Tuesday meeting.
“We’re talking about a bunch of different ideas that we may need to do in another bill and we want to take our time and make sure we’re thoughtful so whatever we do it will be much more targeted, much more focused on jobs, bringing back jobs, and making sure we take care of our kids,” he said.
They discussed another round of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a popular small-business lending program, as well as a payroll tax holiday for essential workers and federal funding for schools and colleges to help students return to classes in the fall.
Republicans are discussing setting up a revenue-loss test for businesses that apply for PPP loans, which Rubio, the chairman of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, said would ensure “that we’re prioritizing the industries and businesses that were hardest hit.”
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), who faces a competitive race this fall, floated at the meeting the idea of a payroll tax holiday for essential workers and Mnuchin did not object to it, according to a lawmaker in the room.
Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) is pushing for federal money to help schools and colleges restart in the fall.
“The area that I think we should be looking at is to make sure schools and colleges have enough funding so that 75 million can go back to school and college safely and if they don’t, I think we should address that in July,” he said.
Alexander said after the meeting he’s “disinclined” to support another round of checks.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) called another round of checks “a terrible idea.”
“We’re already setting records with how much money we’ve spent,” he said. “We’ve added like $4 trillion in debt in one year just with what they’ve done so far.”
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said “anything we do in the future has to be better targeted.”
He said Congress needs to take a close look at the money that was appropriated in March and remains unspent.