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Mnuchin says $600 payments on the way; McConnell blocks vote for $2,000 stimulus

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Mnuchin says $600 payments on the way; McConnell blocks vote for $2,000 stimulus
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said direct deposit payments could begin Tuesday and paper checks will start to be mailed out Wednesday. Pool Photo by Alex Wong/UPI | License Photo

Dec. 29 (UPI) -- Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said $600 payments would begin to be delivered Tuesday night, as Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell blocked an effort by President Donald Trump and Democrats to increase stimulus payments to Americans.

Mnuchin announced that the Department of Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service would begin delivering the $600 payments included in the $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill signed into law by President Donald Trump over the weekend as early as Tuesday night through direct deposit, with paper checks being mailed out Wednesday.

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"Treasury and the IRS are working with unprecedented speed to issue a second round of Economic Impact Payments to eligible Americans and their families," he said.

All eyes were on the Senate earlier in the day to see if the chamber would agree to demands by Democrats and Trump to increase the amount from $600 in the current relief package to $2,000. The House passed the increase on Monday.

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There was Republican opposition in the House -- 134 voted against the raise Monday -- and there has been opposition in the Senate. But recent GOP support for the proposal, which included both Georgia Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, were sidetracked by McConnell on Tuesday.

Instead, McConnell said the upper chamber would begin a process to consider larger stimulus payments and tie it to resolving two other Trump complaints -- election security and removing federal protections for technology companies such as Facebook and Twitter.

McConnell's move is a direct rejection of what Trump has repeatedly called for and could produce significant political backlash for Republicans as millions of Americans continue to struggle financially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

RELATED House approves increasing stimulus payments to $2,000

Democrats are expected to hold another vote this week to again pass the raise, but it's not clear what McConnell's endgame is.

Following Monday's House vote, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer put the onus directly on McConnell, who waited for days to make any public comments on the proposal to give Americans more money.

"Following the strong bipartisan vote in the House, [Tuesday] I will move to pass the legislation in the Senate to quickly deliver Americans with $2,000 emergency checks," Schumer said in a statement.

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"Every Senate Democrat is for this much-needed increase in emergency financial relief, which can be approved tomorrow if no Republican blocks it -- there is no good reason for Senate Republicans to stand in the way.

"There's strong support for these $2,000 emergency checks from every corner of the country," he added. "Leader McConnell ought to make sure Senate Republicans do not stand in the way of helping to meet the needs of American workers and families who are crying out for help."

The measure would have passed Tuesday if all 100 senators had agreed to the raise. With McConnell's block, it could now take days or weeks for the Senate to debate and convene a roll call vote for whatever agreement it finds.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., on Monday piled on pressure by threatening to filibuster a vote to override Trump's veto of a defense funding bill unless the chamber votes on the stimulus raise.

"I'm going to object until we get a vote on legislation to provide a $2,000 direct payment to the working class," Sanders said in a statement.

"Let me be clear: If Sen. 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."

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Trump, who said Sunday he had GOP support in the Senate for the raise, added more muscle to his demand Monday night -- underscoring what has turned into an extremely rare alliance with House Democrats, seemingly against Senate Republicans.

"Give the people $2,000, not $600," he tweeted. "They have suffered enough!"

Long-standing GOP opposition to greater COVID-19 emergency spending is the chief reason a relief bill was deadlocked in Congress for months. And so McConnell's choice was to relent a bit and send more money to struggling Americans -- or directly oppose Trump in the final weeks of his administration and risk political backlash in the coming Senate runoffs in Georgia, which could cede control of the chamber to Democrats.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats approved a $3 trillion relief package in May, which would have funded more stimulus payments, unemployment benefits, coronavirus testing and $1 trillion to states and cities. Senate Republicans and Trump never took a serious look at the bill.

Over the summer, Pelosi and Schumer negotiated with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Mnuchin to find a compromise, but failed. Democrats refused to consider a bill costing less than $2 trillion.

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McConnell called the figure too high and Senate Republicans in September unveiled a "skinny" $500 billion relief bill, which included no stimulus and was quickly rejected by Democrats as "emaciated."

It wasn't until this month, amid a historic surge in COVID-19 cases, that bipartisan support coalesced around the $900 billion "compromise" relief measure. It passed with overwhelming majorities in both chambers last week.

Pictures of the Year: top U.S. news images for 2020

President Donald Trump takes off his face mask as he returns to the White House after undergoing treatment for COVID-19 at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on October 5. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo

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