WASHINGTON — Nearly 130 million Americans have received direct payments of up to $1,200 from the U.S. Treasury, a centerpiece of the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic. But prospects are uncertain for another round of these stimulus checks.
President Donald Trump has left the door open to the idea, saying earlier this week that “we’re talking about that with a lot of different people.” House Democrats included a new and more generous round of payments in a $3 trillion relief bill that’s scheduled for a floor vote on Friday.
But Republicans have declared the House Democratic bill dead on arrival, and some have voiced skepticism about the need for any more individual payments.
The first round of checks was authorized by the $2 trillion Cares Act, which passed in March. It was a novel idea, supported by both Democrats and Republicans: send payments, as quickly as possible, to all Americans earning less than $99,000 a year. The money could be spent on whatever people wanted. Rent. Bills. Groceries. Anything.
It was meant to both help people with their finances but also help companies that struggled from a huge drop in consumer spending.
Democrats want to renew the payments, but it’s unclear what might happen next.
Speaking on the Senate floor on Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., railed against House Democrats’ bill for expanding stimulus payments to individuals with a taxpayer identification number, not just a Social Security number. That would allow unauthorized immigrants to qualify for the payments.
“Another round of checks for illegal immigrants. Can you believe it?” McConnell said. “We forgot to have the Treasury Department send money to people here illegally. My goodness, what an oversight. Thank goodness Democrats are on the case.”
The House Democratic proposal would provide $1,200 for all individuals — including children — capping the payments at $6,000 per household. The initial round of payments authorized in the CARES Act in late March provided only $500 for children. Like the stimulus checks sent out under the CARES Act, the payments included in House Democrats’ bill would begin to phase out for people with incomes of $75,000 and above.
There are no active bipartisan negotiations under way on the next coronavirus relief bill. McConnell and other Republicans say they want to pause and allow the approximately $3 trillion in spending already approved to make its way into the economy before agreeing to anything more.
That leaves it unclear whether additional stimulus payments to individuals will be part of Congress’ next coronavirus bill, whenever that legislation does to take shape. Beyond McConnell’s attacks on House Democrats’ attempt to expand the payments to unauthorized immigrants, there has been little public discussion by Senate Republicans of pursuing an additional round of direct stimulus checks.
Earlier this week, Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, said he did not see the need for more direct payments to individuals.
“At this point no,” Brady said on a conference call with reporters. “I think our main focus should be getting people back to work. I think that’s the key, both short term and long term, for the economy and for families.”
Some Democrats had sought a different approach for getting money to individual Americans. Lawmakers including Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, proposed a Paycheck Guarantee Act that would provide a three-month federal guarantee for 100 percent of worker salaries up to $100,000, to ensure employers keep workers on payroll and continue to provide benefits. Similar legislation has been introduced in the Senate.
Jayapal and others have expressed disappointed over the decision by House Democratic leaders to bypass the Paycheck Guarantee proposal in their new bill, and go with a new round of stimulus payments instead. Democratic leaders argued the stimulus checks were a more efficient and cost-effective approach.