Romney tests positive for coronavirus
Republicans not sold on new round of relief checks
Senate Republicans are pouring cold water on including another round of stimulus checks in the next coronavirus relief bill.
The record $2.2 trillion pandemic bill signed into law March 27 mandated one-time payments of $1,200 for people making up to $75,000 a year, but most of the checks have already been distributed.
The White House and Democrats are signaling support for doing at least one more round of checks. GOP senators, however, say they aren't sold yet on the need for a second round, and several said they are strongly opposed to the idea.
"Well people in hell want ice water too," said Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), asked about another round of checks. "I mean, everybody has an idea and a bill, usually to spend more money. It's like a Labor Day mattress sale around here."
A spokesperson for Kennedy said on Friday evening that there was a misunderstanding about the question and that the senator's comments were in reference to potential bills that would further increase state and local government funding, a topic that was discussed at length in the same interview with reporters.
When asked about the senator's position on a second round of stimulus payments, the spokesperson said the senator will consider any legislation that comes before the Senate. Kennedy has introduced a bill to give state and local governments more flexibility in using existing CARES Act funds to pay for their operating costs, which he has said could eliminate the need for additional spending.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said he's not in favor of additional payments.
"I wasn't a real big supporter of that in the first round," he said. "This isn't your classic recession."
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), during a recent virtual town hall, indicated he didn't want another round of checks, suggesting the focus should instead be on reopening the economy.
"The real stimulus that's going to change the trajectory that we're on is going to be the economy, not government checks," Graham said. "So I doubt there will be another payment."
The reluctance comes after Senate Republicans punted on the Trump administration's request for two rounds of direct assistance as part of the March legislation.
The White House, as part of its negotiations with congressional leaders, requested $500 billion for two rounds of direct checks; instead Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act with $250 billion for one round.
Republicans said at the time they wanted to wait and see if a second round would be necessary. Just including the checks was a point of contention among Republicans. Some indicated they didn't support them but that there was too much bipartisan backing to strip them out of the bill.
It's unclear when the Senate will start negotiations on the next bill now that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has called for a "pause" to see what aspects of the $2.8 trillion already appropriated by Congress are working and what aren't.
Lawmakers are also keeping a careful eye on the economy as some states begin lifting stay-at-home orders.
"We're at a point where it's going to be a discussion point. Because in Wyoming, we're opening again, many communities are. It's just a matter of how long it takes to really get the economy open again. If it takes too long, then we're likely to have to do that," said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.).
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) added that while the two-round approach was discussed during the initial negotiations, Senate Republicans held off because they wanted time to assess.
"I think we're still in that assessment," he said.
But Trump and White House officials have indicated they're still interested in providing another round of checks in the next bill.
White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett told reporters late last month that administration officials were studying the need for more stimulus checks as the coronavirus continues to wreak havoc on the economy.
"I think that's something that we are studying very carefully, that I know that people in the House are as well," Hassett told reporters at the White House.
Trump also said last month that he was weighing a second round of relief checks, telling reporters at a news conference it was "absolutely under serious consideration."
Under the CARES Act, a person making up to $75,000 a year received a $1,200 payment, while couples making up to $150,000 received $2,400. After that it was scaled down until reaching a ceiling of $99,000 a year for an individual or $198,000 a year for couples, at which point it phased out altogether. An additional $500 was provided per dependent child.
"I'm not sure they're off the table, but I think we need to have a better sense of, one, what good they did and, two, whether they'd have the same impact in the summer months, as they had in April and May," Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of GOP leadership, told reporters.
Democrats have argued that the one-time payments are not enough to provide financial stability to people throughout the coronavirus pandemic and have pitched various other proposals.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), for example, is calling for $2,000 monthly payments for the duration of the public health emergency. In a caucus call this week, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other lawmakers voiced support for the next package to include $2,000 in recurring monthly payments for Americans.
"That money reaches people that aren't reached with workers unemployment insurance, and small-business loans, so I would be open to that," said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), asked about a second round of stimulus checks.
But the idea of doing a second large package has run into a buzz saw in the GOP-controlled Senate, where many Republicans are raising concerns about the impact the nearly $3 trillion already spent is having on the long-term fiscal stability of the country.
Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), when asked about additional stimulus checks, said he was not ready to support that kind of legislation.
"I'm probably not going to be interested in doing anything for a while," Braun said. "Whether it's the payroll tax cut, a round of stimulus checks, I'm thinking $3 trillion has been a pretty good wallop. We need to see how that's working before, you know, I'm going to be interested in doing anything else."
Other GOP senators warned that it was premature to talk about a second round of stimulus checks but didn't close the door altogether.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who spearheaded the provision in the March bill that included the stimulus checks, said the "door is left open" but that senators need more information.
"With so many billions of dollars not being spent, I think we need to wait a couple of weeks before we even make that determination," Grassley said.
Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Republican senator, added, "I think it's maybe a little too early to tell. ... I think it's part of the discussion."
Updated 10:25 p.m.