Senators Spar Over Whether Second $1,200 Stimulus Checks Are Necessary

Sarah Silbiger | Bloomberg | Getty Images
  • Direct payments of $600 per person are reportedly part of a new coronavirus aid package.
  • Certain senators are pushing for those payments to be $1,200 instead, much like the first round.
  • On Friday, two Republican senators squared off in a debate: Are those checks necessary or not?

Millions of Americans are poised to receive second stimulus checks.

Yet a fight is taking place on Capitol Hill over how much money will be included in any payments.

The latest proposals include direct payments of $600 per person. In contrast, the first round of checks sent out this spring were $1,200 per adult.

On Friday, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., took to the chamber's floor to ask for immediate consideration of a bill he has proposed that would include $1,200 stimulus checks for individuals, $2,400 per married couple and $500 per child, the same amounts that were distributed in the first round.

"It's the least that we can do," Hawley said. "It should be the first thing that we can do."

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Washington lawmakers are working to come to an agreement on more coronavirus relief aid and prevent a government shutdown that would happen as soon as Friday if more funding is not approved.

Hawley's effort was blocked by Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis.

The fight continued on Friday afternoon when Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., appeared on the Senate floor to seek unanimous consent for his proposal for $1,200 stimulus checks for adults, $2,400 for couples and $500 for their children. He was joined by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who expressed his support for the direct payments. Once again, Johnson objected to the move.

The campaign for additional $1,200 checks prompted a fierce debate over whether those payments are necessary right now.

The case for more $1,200 stimulus checks

Cars line-up as the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank distributes food outside a church in Los Angeles on Nov. 19, 2020.
Mike Blake | Reuters
Cars line-up as the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank distributes food outside a church in Los Angeles on Nov. 19, 2020.

Since the CARES Act was passed in March, more than $270 billion in stimulus checks has been sent to roughly 160 million people.

Meanwhile, the financial suffering Americans are experiencing has continued, Hawley said.

Now, some working people are forced to live in their cars and face situations where they cannot go to the doctor, pay their rent or feed their children, he said.

"It is no answer for this body to tell them, 'Go get on an unemployment line,'" Hawley said.

Despite the fact that the Senate voted in favor of the legislation authorizing the first checks in the spring, there has been resistance to sending out a second round.

"Nothing could be more targeted, no relief could be more important, than relief for working people," Hawley said in response to Johnson's objection.

"Working people are told they may be last, if they get relief at all," Hawley said. "Go home and try explaining that to people of your state."

Both Sanders and Schumer also said more direct payments are urgently needed.

"This is a moment of emergency, and we have got to respond to the needs of working families," Sanders said. He noted that both President Donald Trump and President-elect Joe Biden have expressed their support for more stimulus payments.

Schumer said the $1,200 "survival checks" should not reduce other support that's currently set to be included in the coronavirus relief bill such as enhanced unemployment and aid to small businesses, health care or education.

"We don't need to offset the cost or cut from elsewhere in the bill to make sure the stimulus checks are $1,200 for each adult," Schumer said. "Much of the money will go back into the economy anyway."

Why some argue against the checks

A man without a mask walks through a crowd of people on Dec. 13, 2020 in New York.
Alexi Rosenfeld | Getty Images
A man without a mask walks through a crowd of people on Dec. 13, 2020 in New York.

The reason Johnson objected to Hawley's proposal comes down to numbers, the Wisconsin senator said in a speech on the Senate floor on Friday.

Currently, there are an estimated 9 million to 11 million Americans who are unemployed, according to Johnson.

Yet the first round of direct payments went to 115 million American households, many more people than those who are currently experiencing joblessness, he said.

In addition, surveys show that the first stimulus checks sometimes were not used to pay for essentials. Instead, they mostly went toward savings and debt, Johnson added.

"I don't think you can take a look at these direct payments to individuals as stimulative," he said.

Hawley's new plan for checks, which is based on the CARES Act, has "virtually no revisions, no improvements," Johnson said.

In his Senate floor speech, Johnson said he doesn't think past stimulus efforts have worked. Instead, he backs lower regulation and a competitive tax administration.

While the national debt is at $27.4 trillion, this new coronavirus aid package will likely increase that by about $1 trillion, Johnson noted, which could be "mortgaging our children's future."

"We will not have learned the lessons from our very hurried, very rushed, very massive earlier relief packages," he said.

Schumer called Johnson's position "a baseless agenda of austerity."

"By now, Republican objections over debt and deficit are comical," Schumer said. "They added $2 trillion to the debt for a massive tax cut for corporations and the wealthy, and that was during a steady economy."

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