Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) wants to force a vote in the U.S. Senate on increasing Covid-19 relief checks from $600 to $2,000 per person. And he says he willing to hold up a massive defense-spending bill to get that vote.
The Senate is set to vote this week on whether to override President Donald Trump’s recent veto of the National Defense Authorization Act, an annual spending bill that funds the military. Trump had vetoed the NDAA in late December because he said he didn’t like that it called for renaming military bases that honored Confederate officials and because the bill didn’t include a repeal of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields social-media companies and other tech companies from liability for content published by others using their technology. But boundless defense spending is one of the few things that Democrats and Republicans still agree on, and the Senate is widely expected to overturn Trump’s veto of the NDAA.
This is where Sanders comes in. He says he plans to filibuster the override vote for as long as he can in order to make Majority Leader Mitch McConnell call a vote on those $2,000 Covid relief checks. “McConnell and the Senate want to expedite the override vote and I understand that,” Sanders told Politico. “But I’m not going to allow that to happen unless there is a vote, no matter how long that takes, on the $2,000 direct payment.”
The lower, $600 direct relief checks included in the most recent coronavirus pandemic relief bill were the result of months of negotiations between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Majority Leader McConnell, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. But after Congress passed that compromise relief bill, President Trump called it a “disgrace” and threatened to veto it. He specifically singled out the $600 stimulus checks as “ridiculously low.”
On this, Trump found himself in alignment with Democrats in the House and Senate. Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, the top Senate Democrat, responded to Trump’s threat by saying they would push for follow-up legislation to increase the checks to $2,000, and on Monday the House of Representatives on Monday passed a bill to do just that, with 44 Republicans voting in favor. But McConnell has not said whether he would even allow a vote on the $2,000 checks, despite some support among Republicans such as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.). “I am concerned about the debt, but working families have been hurt badly by the pandemic,” Rubio wrote on Twitter. “This is why I supported $600 direct payments to working families & if given the chance will vote to increase the amount.”
By vowing to hold up the vote on the defense-bill override, Sanders is taking a cue from McConnell and using procedural tactics to get his way. He says he will attempt to keep senators in Washington through New Year’s Eve as part of his protest. Such a move would also pull Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, the two Georgia Republicans competing in run-off elections that culminate on January 5, off the campaign trail in the race’s final days.
“The House passed a $2,000 direct payment for working people,” Sanders said on Twitter on Monday evening. “Now it’s the Senate’s turn. If McConnell doesn’t agree to an up or down vote to provide the working people of our country a $2,000 direct payment, Congress will not be going home for New Year’s Eve. Let’s do our job.”
Sanders’ allies on the progressive left praised his use of “hardball tactics” to get a vote on the $2,000 checks. “Sanders’ gambit is a potential sea change moment in contemporary politics,” writes David Sirota, a liberal journalist and former Sanders speechwriter. “For once, Republicans are being put in a tough spot to try to simultaneously justify rejecting a wildly popular proposal for direct domestic aid while rubber-stamping policies that allow for hundreds of billions of dollars of Pentagon spending — and they have to try to somehow rationalize that insanity during a pandemic and economic emergency.”