‘This is not over’, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal says after GOP blocks $2,000 COVID stimulus checks
SPRINGFIELD – U.S. Rep. Richard Neal was in the middle of explaining the legislative procedure of unanimous consent to reporters Thursday when someone shouted out that House Republicans had blocked his bill to provide $2,000 COVID impact payments to individuals.
“We had a feeling that would happen,” said Neal, a Springfield Democrat and chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means.
Neal’s Thursday morning press conference on the steps of the federal courthouse was clearly part of a broader strategy to pressure Republicans. A press statement from Neal’s office reacting to House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy’s blocking of the bill was distributed almost immediately.
In a tweet, meanwhile, Neal said, “This is not over.”
House Democrats will still vote on the proposal Monday. They must be back in Washington anyway to vote on a potential override of President Donald J. Trump’s veto of a defense spending bill that would give pay raises to military members.
But the failure on Christmas Eve to move forward with unanimous consent throws a wrench into Neal and his fellow Democrats’ proposal to provide $2,000 direct payments to individuals.
Neal’s bill — introduced Thursday morning after consultation with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others — would do two things:
increase the value of the economic impact payments provided in the new COVID relief package so that each eligible family adult receives $2,000, up from $600;
apply the same, broader eligibility established in the end-of-year package to mixed-status families where only one spouse has a Social Security Number. Under the latest COVID relief legislation, families are eligible to receive the payment amount for each adult with a Social Security number, and can claim the corresponding amount for the first round of economic impact payments when they file their 2020 taxes.
Neal’s legislation also requires the White House to implement the whole bill in order to send out the $2,000 payments, a guard against letting Republicans pick and choose.
McCarthy, a California Republican, said Thursday his concerns are in the bill’s overseas spending.
Foreign aid and other provisions are included because the legislation is not limited to pandemic relief; it is a 2021 spending package to close out the congressional session and avoid a government shutdown. The COVID-19 stimulus was one of many bills tacked on to the end-of-year package.
“We think it’s a good bill,” Neal said.
For eight months Democrats have advocated for large payments to individuals in a new COVID relief bill. The money won’t just help families with necessities, Neal said — it would also help the economy in general by inducing demand for goods and services.
Twenty million Americans are still unemployed, Neal said, adding that the real economic recovery can’t begin until more people are vaccinated and the virus is under control.
Neal said Friday that at no time in eight months of negotiations did the President’s representative at the table, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, indicate that the President wanted $2,000 payments. That figure is in line with the amount Democrats sought.
“In fact, it was, if you recall, it was Sen.(Mitch) McConnell who opposed any impact payments,” Neal said of the GOP leader in the Senate.
But then came a Trump tweet this week, demanding higher direct payments.
“So there is an opportunity here to do what the President said,” Neal said. “We thought that the president’s offer was a good one.”
Neal was asked if the tweet was a real offer, or just a bid for attention from the soon-to-be former president.
“This illustrates the difficulty in doing policy by Tweet,” Neal said.
But the tweet put Republican lawmakers, already having to figure out how the GOP will function in a post-Trump world, in a difficult position.
“Well it certainly succeeded in upending the debate,” Neal said. “And it’s caused a lot of heartburn in the Republican party. That’s for certain.”
Neal said he and his House colleagues have been consulting all along with Janet Yellen, the former Federal Reserve Chair and President-elect Joe Biden’s choice to replace Mnuchin.
“What we are really doing here is building a bridge to the Biden administration,” Neal said.
Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, now a senator from California, take their oaths of office Jan 20.