WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi offered Wednesday to immediately pass $2,000 direct checks to US residents, hours after Trump called for them to be included in the coronavirus aid bill that passed Monday.
The move puts congressional Republicans in a tough spot. They pushed for smaller stimulus checks during COVID negotiations, only to be immediately undermined by their own president. In a “dear colleague” letter sent to members of the House, Pelosi offered to pass the $2,000 checks by unanimous consent on Christmas Eve if Republicans will go along with it.
It’s unlikely that the checks will actually pass. Congress typically does not make changes to massive, negotiated bills after they are passed and Republicans had already railed about the high price tag of the one they voted on. Trump could still veto the coronavirus package if Republicans don’t meet his new demands, delaying the $600 checks and other critical aid Congress agreed to.
Trump mostly sat out the COVID bill talks as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel took the lead on negotiating with Democrats. But on Tuesday evening, after a deal was reached, Trump released a video to Twitter bashing the $900 billion agreement.
Most of Trump’s complaints involved foreign aid and other provisions that were not actually part of the COVID bill — they were included in the $1.4 trillion 2021 spending bill that was passed at the same time to avoid a government shutdown. But Trump did attack the $600 direct checks contained in the COVID bill as "ridiculously low" and demand they be increased to $2,000.
In her “dear colleague” letter, Pelosi said she and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer “repeatedly asked Republicans what would be the highest number the President would accept for direct payments, and they responded with Sphinx-like silence. In the negotiations, they would never go above $600 and in some cases, proposed $500.”
Pelosi wrote that if Trump wants the $2,000 checks, he should call on congressional Republicans to agree to them. The COVID aid bill was passed by Congress Monday but has not yet been signed into law by Trump. Trump did not explicitly threaten to veto the legislation if the checks are not beefed up.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and McConnell, the top two Republicans in Congress, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The debate over checks has made for unusual partnerships. Initially, there were no checks at all in the coronavirus bill. But progressive Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders and conservative Republican Sen. Josh Hawley teamed up to lead a public pressure campaign demanding the inclusion of $1,200 direct payments similar to what was contained in the CARES Act back in March. They didn’t get that, but negotiators did agree to include $600 checks for most American adults.
Under the current wording of the bill, adults who earn up to $75,000 will receive $600 checks, and couples who earn up to $150,000 combined will receive $1,200. Parents will also receive $600 for each child dependent under the age of 17, but no money for older children or adult dependents. For people who earn above $75,000, the size of the checks is phased out at a rate of $5 for every $100 of income, drawing down to zero at $87,000 or $174,000 for joint filers.