Second stimulus checks: How SCOTUS battle could derail $1,200 direct payments

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WASHINGTON, DC – APRIL 29: U.S. President Donald Trump’s name appears on the coronavirus economic assistance checks that were sent to citizens across the country April 29, 2020 in Washington, DC. The initial 88 million payments totaling nearly $158 billion were sent by the Treasury Department last week as most of the country remains under stay-at-home orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — Any optimism about Republicans and Democrats meeting in the middle on a new coronavirus aid package that many hoped would include a second round of $1,200 direct payments has likely been derailed following the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Last week, President Donald Trump urged his GOP colleagues to “go higher” on a deal and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had their first talks in weeks about a stimulus deal. But days later, the parties were at war over the process of filling RBG’s open Supreme Court seat. And with Republicans pushing to quickly fill the vacated seat, most insiders believe it’s highly unlikely the sides would find common ground on a COVID relief deal.

It’s worth noting Democrats and Republicans agreed Tuesday to take a government shutdown off the table this fall, giving a big, bipartisan vote to a temporary government-wide funding bill. However, the bipartisan spirit is expected to end with that critical measure.

During a hotly-contested election year, a package that includes direct payments to Americans could be seen as a big win for Trump, whose name was on the first round of checks. Though Democrats have favored increased stimulus spending, a relief deal has been viewed as a long shot this close to Election Day. The looming Supreme Court battle makes it even more unlikely that the sides will come to an agreement before November 3.

One group that found middle ground was the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus. Last week, the group of Democrats and Republicans unveiled a $1.5 trillion bill that would provide, among other things, direct stimulus checks to Americans.

When asked about the $500 billion proposed for state aid as part of the “March to Common Ground” stimulus framework presented by the problem solvers group, Trump said he supported “something like that.”

“I like the larger amount,” Trump said. “Some of the Republicans disagree but I think I can convince them to go along with that, I like the larger number. I want to see people get money, it wasn’t their fault that this happened.”

Trump has previously supported a second round of $1,200 stimulus checks for most Americans, which is included in the bill’s $316 billion budget for direct assistance.

However, many Democrats criticized the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus’ proposal for not doing enough.

No. 2 House Democrat Steny Hoyer of Maryland said the caucus had developed “useful ideas, important ideas” but said the proposal did not do enough to address the ongoing needs of helping the economy recover from the COVID-19 crisis.

House Democrats passed a $3 trillion bill that included $1,200 stimulus checks back in March. However, Senate Republicans and the White House rejected the measure.

During negotiations in August, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave a $2.2 trillion marker and has since indicated she’s willing to negotiate down.

However, Senate GOP leaders haven’t budged from a $650 billion measure that Democrats scuttled earlier this month via filibuster. An earlier $1 trillion Senate GOP plan never gained momentum.

Last week, Pelosi said the House will remain in session until lawmakers deliver another round of relief. Pelosi told her Democratic colleagues on a morning conference call that “we have to stay here until we have a bill.”

At issue in negotiations for a potential fifth relief bill are a replacement for the $600-per-week COVID unemployment benefit that expired at the end of July, money to help schools open, assistance to state and local governments, and additional funding of a program that directly subsidizes business hit hardest by the pandemic.

The stalemate is politically risky for all sides heading into the fall election, and both sides accused the other of acting primarily with political calculations in mind. Democrats said GOP senators need to “check a box” and vote on any kind of relief bill before exiting Washington to campaign while Republicans said Democrats were intent on denying Republicans a political win.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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