House GOP rejects unanimous consent on $2,000 direct payments

An effort by House Democrats on Thursday to pass a bill to provide $2,000 stimulus checks — up from the $600 approved in a sweeping coronavirus relief and omnibus spending package earlier in the week — was rejected.

The Democrats’ push to pass the bill came after President Trump raised objections to the $2.3 trillion must-pass legislation, complaining that the $600 direct payments to Americans included in the bill were too small. He instead called for the amount to be raised to $2,000 — setting the scene for a potential government shutdown. The package was negotiated by top congressional leaders from both parties and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who had assured members the president would sign the legislation.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) sought to pass a measure to boost the check size to $2,000 during the Christmas Eve session of the House by unanimous consent, while Rep. Rob Whitman (R-Va.) sought to bring up a competing measure to revisit the portion of the appropriations legislation that relates to foreign aid.

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), who was presiding over the House, shot down both requests. She said that under House guidelines, legislation can’t be considered by unanimous consent unless there is the approval of bipartisan House floor and committee leadership.

Thursday’s effort from House Democrats won’t be their last. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement that the House on Monday would hold a recorded vote on legislation to increase the size of the checks in the relief package to $2,000.

“To vote against this bill is to deny the financial hardship that families face and to deny them the relief they need,” she said. “Hopefully by then the President will have already signed the bipartisan and bicameral legislation to keep government open and to deliver coronavirus relief.”

The legislation introduced by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) on Thursday increases the amount of the direct payments in the relief package to $2,000 and is contingent upon enactment of the relief package.

Trump surprised lawmakers when he released a video Tuesday evening criticizing the relief-and-spending package, after the measure passed both chambers of Congress on Monday with wide bipartisan support.

Trump has not explicitly said he would veto the year-end legislation, and it’s unclear how he will ultimately proceed. Failing to sign the bill could lead to a government shutdown next week and the expiration of key unemployment insurance programs on Saturday.

Top Democratic lawmakers were quick to seize on Trump’s calls for $2,000 direct payments.. 

Democrats had long wanted bigger checks than those that ultimately made it into the relief package, but some GOP lawmakers have been critical of direct payments and wanted to keep the cost of the relief package as low as possible. The payments of $600 per adult and per child in the bill are estimated to cost about $164 billion, compared to the nearly $300 billion cost of the payments of $1,200 per adult and $500 per child in the CARES Act enacted in March.

In rejecting Democrats' effort, Republicans highlighted another portion of the year-end bill that Trump criticized: foreign aid that was in the appropriations portion of the package. 

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) formally announced to his members on Wednesday evening the counter unanimous consent request in a dear colleague letter, attempting to cast blame on Democrats for the chaos on the spending bill despite the president’s criticisms despite the foreign aid being in his budget request.

"House Democrats appear to be suffering from selective hearing. They have conveniently ignored the concerns expressed by the President, and shared by our constituents, that we ought to reexamine how our tax dollars are spent overseas while so many of our neighbors at home are struggling to make ends meet,” the letter said. 

“Thus, Republicans will offer a unanimous consent request to revisit the State and Foreign Operations title of the Omnibus so that we can fully address the concerns at hand. It will be up to Speaker Pelosi to decide if she wants to act on behalf of the American people.”

McCarthy told members on a call Wednesday he has spoken to the president and it remains unclear whether he will ultimately sign the coronavirus aid and spending package. 

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