Senator Bernie Sanders has threatened to shut down the US government next week and keep lawmakers in Washington through Christmas unless they submit to his demand for another round of $1,200 stimulus checks for most Americans.
“We're not going to go home for the Christmas holidays unless we provide for the millions of families in this country who are suffering,” the Vermont Independent senator said in a speech on the Senate floor on Friday.
Mr Sanders said it was not like him to use government funding deadlines as leverage to push certain policy priorities, and he stood aside on Friday to allow negotiators another week to work out the details of an all-inclusive fiscal year 2021 appropriations package.
“I’m not one of the members of the Senate who shuts down, does this, or does that, and keeps you here for the weekend. I don't do that,” Mr Sanders said.
But with the coronavirus pandemic raging as strongly as ever, he is willing to take government funding to the brink next week if it will help him secure more direct payments for Americans.
“This I want to say right now: I am prepared to withdraw my objection at this moment. But I will not be prepared to withdraw an objection next week,” he said.
Mr Sanders, a generational progressive icon who nearly won the Democratic presidential nomination two cycles in a row, is not the only senator aggressively pushing the $1,200 stimulus check proposal.
The other is Missouri Republican Senator Josh Hawley, a rising star in conservative circles who unflinchingly supports Donald Trump and is reportedly gearing up for a run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024.
The odd couple has teamed up on an amendment to the must-pass government spending bill calling for the Treasury Department to mail out another round of $1,200 stimulus checks to most American adults as part of the next congressional Covid relief package.
As of early Friday afternoon, Mr Sanders was still threatening to delay a vote on the stopgap government appropriations bill, known as a “continuing resolution” (or “CR” in Washington-speak), that will allow lawmakers another week to negotiate a long-term government spending outlay for FY21.
Funding for the US government is set to expire at midnight on Friday. Donald Trump is expected to sign the stopgap funding measure before then.
Mr Sanders had been using Friday’s deadline as leverage to demand that his and Mr Hawley’s amendment receive a vote. He has not been given any such guarantees as of yet, and the two senators can redeploy the same tactic next Friday when the government is on the precipice of shutting down.
“Let’s see what happens,” the Vermont senator told reporters on Capitol Hill on Friday morning, urging them to have “patience” as his negotiating tactic played out.
Like Mr Sanders, most Democrats in Washington want to move forward with another round of $1,200 direct payments to most American taxpayers in the mould of a programme from the $2.2trn CARES Act from March that cost the US Treasury hundreds of billions of dollars.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she would like to see another round of stimulus checks in the next Covid package that has eluded negotiators for months. But a group of moderate senators from both parties who have been negotiating over the last week on a middle-of-the-road Covid deal have not included the stimulus check programme in their latest proposals.
Mr Hawley’s support for re-upping the $1,200 stimulus check programme bucks his party establishment’s more austere approach to Covid relief.
The Trump administration has floated the possibility of $600 checks.
Senate Republicans, most of whom are even more wary of a ballooning budget than the outgoing GOP White House, are all over the map on stimulus checks, with some lending support in recent weeks for another round of them, but others throwing cold water on the proposal.
“It would be a dereliction of duty if Congress adjourns for Christmas without having a vote on providing working families with direct payments,” Mr Hawley said in a statement on Thursday. “Working people are struggling. And they should be the first people given relief, not last. The crisis of rising unemployment claims, ever-expanding food lines, evictions, and growing credit card debt has been staring us in the face for months. It’s time we do something about it and provide emergency relief to Americans.”
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