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WASHINGTON - The House on Monday voted to beef up stimulus checks set to go to American households in the coming weeks from $600 to $2,000. The chamber acted swiftly after President Donald Trump demanded the larger payments in the past week, but passage of the measure is uncertain because Senate Republicans have not unified behind the idea.
On Sunday, Trump signed into law a $900 billion emergency relief package that included $600 checks. His advisers had advocated for these payments, but Trump later called the check size 'measly” and demanded that it be increased. After he signed the law, he pledged to continue pushing for the larger payments, something many Democrats also support.
Forty four Republicans joined the majority of Democrats on Monday in passing the bill on a 275-134 vote. It needed a two-thirds vote to pass, so it was narrowly successful. The measure's fate is much less certain in the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans.
Approving stimulus checks of $2,000 would cost $464 billion, the Joint Committee on Taxation said Monday. This would be in addition to the $900 billion package Trump signed into law on Sunday. Congressional Republicans had sought to keep the total cost under $1 trillion, but that was before Trump began a push in the past week to make the stimulus payments larger.
The support is growing because the economy is weakening and the pandemic has led to rising numbers of people seeking unemployment benefits and turning to food banks for help.
Since Trump first demanded the larger checks on Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and other Democrats have tried to push the idea into law. They have ignored his other complaints about the new spending law, however, particularly his calls for reductions in foreign aid and environmental programs.
'It's not exactly what we would put on the floor if Republicans were in control,” said Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y., who supported the larger checks. 'But I think it recognizes the fact that, [Pelosi is] the speaker and as a Democratic speaker, they're going to have an input as to what that package is going to look like in regards to the terms and conditions of the direct checks. I'm willing to take half a loaf, and I think the president recognizes that.”
Monday's vote took place after House Republican leaders blocked an attempt last week to pass the larger checks by unanimous consent in the House. The measure now goes to the Senate, where it is unclear whether Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., will move to consider it in the closing days of the current Congress. It is clear that some Senate Republicans support larger checks. The idea has been championed by Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said he supported larger payments.
'I am concerned about the debt, but working families have been hurt badly by the pandemic,” Rubio wrote on Twitter on Monday. 'This is why I supported $600 direct payments to working families & if given the chance will vote to increase the amount.”
In a statement Sunday, Trump said the Senate would 'start the process for a vote that increases checks to $2,000, repeals [liability protections for tech companies], and starts an investigation into voter fraud.”
McConnell has not signaled precisely what he will do with the measure once it is sent over from the House. A McConnell spokesman declined to comment Monday.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Sunday that he would attempt to pass the bill in the Senate himself as soon as Tuesday morning, but any senator could block the measure from proceeding. McConnell could seek to package the larger checks with other Trump demands, but that probably would generate Democratic objections and prevent a vote before the new Congress is seated on Jan. 3.
In March, Congress passed the Cares Act, a $2 trillion measure that included a round of $1,200 stimulus checks for more than 100 million Americans. The program had mixed results, according to several studies. Many people used to money to pay rent or buy groceries. But others saved the money or used it to pay down debt.
Congress has designed the stimulus checks so most people would qualify for them, but not everyone. Americans with income up to $75,000 would qualify for the full amount, but people who earn more than that would receive less or nothing.