Republicans turning against new round of $1,200 rebate checks
Republican lawmakers are voicing deep skepticism about passing another round of $1,200 rebate checks as they contemplate the next and possibly final stage of coronavirus relief legislation.
Senate Republicans on Tuesday said they are more focused on reforming the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, providing more money for cash-strapped state and local governments, boosting benefits for Social Security recipients and fixing other elements of COVID-19 relief bills passed earlier this year.
Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), a member of the Senate Finance Committee, said the CARES Act included rebates because the legislation was passed as the country was entering a lockdown in response to the pandemic and lawmakers wanted to get cash out to people as quickly as possible.
He said the situation is now changed.
“Most folks are very grateful for the help at that point,” he said referring to late March. “But I don’t think we should set up a situation where we’re doing a check month after month after month.”
Lankford said with “the economy reopening, it’s a different day.”
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said the prospect of Congress funding another round of rebate checks is “unlikely.”
He said Congress instead will “be looking at unemployment benefits” and “aid to states and cities and towns.”
“And I think it’s important for us to consider how we’re going to pay for all this and specifically how we’re going to deal with the structural deficit we have that adds a trillion to the debt every year. I hope that’s part of the next package,” he said.
Romney said the rebate checks were passed as the country was heading into a lockdown to help people pay for supplies to get them through quarantine.
GOP senators say no one in their conference is championing the idea of another round of rebate checks at the moment.
A number of Senate Democrats also say that rebate checks aren’t sufficiently targeted and say other relief proposals should be given higher priority.
Sen. Christopher Coons (D-Del.) said “the highest benefit” of including rebate checks in the CARES Act “was that it was immediate and it was widely distributed.”
“My concern is that it’s not focused in a way that is designed to help create or help sustain jobs, to deal with rental housing or education,” he said. “My top priority is a robust round of assistance to state and local governments.”
House Democrats included a second round of checks in their $3 trillion HEROES Act approved last month. The $1,200 payments would go to Americans earning up to $75,000 in annual income with an additional $500 per child.
Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) on Tuesday said he would support another round of rebate checks.
President Trump and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin were leading proponents of direct payments to individuals and families in March, but the idea now faces mounting opposition among GOP senators.
“I’m not enthused about another round of rebate checks,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of Trump’s closest allies on Capitol Hill.
“I do believe we should be helping people on Social Security because the price of food has gone up and I don’t see any end in sight,” he said. “A payment to Social Security recipients who are on fixed income of $50,000 and below might make sense.”
Despite the House passing a $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill last month, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) hasn’t scheduled a vote on a Senate relief package before July 4. Instead, Republicans will focus on the National Defense Authorization Act, the Great American Outdoors Act and the confirmation of circuit court and other nominees this month.
Schumer, who has spent nearly two months pressing Republicans to pass a robust phase-four relief bill, this week has been more focused on pressing the Senate to pass a law enforcement reform bill by the July 4 recess in the wake of national outrage surrounding the death in Minneapolis of George Floyd, an unarmed black man. One police officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes to pin him to the ground now faces murder and manslaughter charges.
Democrats on Tuesday also pressed for a resolution to condemn Trump’s order to disperse peaceful protesters in front of the White House Monday and to bar the president from deploying U.S. troops against peaceful protesters on American soil.
Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.) said the wave of protests and debate on criminal and civil justice reform “could” delay the next round of economic relief talks.
“Hopefully this stuff will start to dissipate a little bit. Justice is going to be served. People are going to held accountable for what they did and so hopefully the more visible manifestations of those protests will start to hopefully fade over time,” he said.
Thune noted the Senate plans to hold multiple hearings this week on what should be included in the next relief bill, but he said moving a bill “probably doesn’t happen” until July.
At the same time, Republicans acknowledge there’s mounting pressure to pass another relief bill as the unemployment rate is projected to hit 20 percent, a level not seen since the Great Depression.
Some senators believe economic anxiety linked to unemployment and diminished economic prospects is likely fueling much of the anger and frustration that has wreaked havoc in cities around the country.
“I don’t think we can ignore the fact that this civil unrest is happening against a backdrop of 20-plus percent unemployment,” said Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.). “We have got to create more opportunity for meaningful work in our urban centers.”
“The question of work, the question of good-paying jobs where people can support themselves, support a family and feel like they have a stake in our society I think is critical, so yeah I think there is a link,” he added.
Hawley is the lead sponsor of a proposal to have the federal government cover 80 percent of the wages for workers at any U.S. business, up to the national wage. He also wants to give businesses a bonus for rehiring laid off workers.
Hawley said he was a strong supporter of rebate checks in March but sees a second round as a lower priority.
“I’m going to say getting people their jobs back, which includes their health care, and prioritizing that, I think, really ought to be where we train our firepower,” he said.
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