Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s decision to support $600 payments to Americans as part of a new round of federal coronavirus relief was motivated by fears for the Senate runoff elections in Georgia, according to The New York Times.
Two sources told the paper McConnell’s U-turn on supporting the one-off payments came after hearing that Republican opposition to more stimulus checks was hurting the campaigns in Georgia.
The Times reported that in a private phone conversation Wednesday, McConnell said backing another round of direct payments to Americans could help.
The Georgia runoffs, which conclude January 5, will decide the balance of power in the Senate, determining how much of a free hand President-elect Joe Biden can expect when he takes office.
McConnell has been the most stubborn force in the larger negotiations over federal coronavirus relief, consistently sticking to his slimmed-down proposal of about $500 billion.
Leading Democrats have whittled their initial $2.2 trillion demand down by at least half, accepting a $908 billion bipartisan proposal as a basis for negotiations.
That proposal would leave out direct payments. But on Wednesday, McConnell made a surprise pivot to supporting payments of about $600 to $700.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had introduced a White House proposal last week that included $600 payments, but it also made a massive cut to unemployment benefits, turning off Democrats.
As negotiations drag on, progressives such as Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and independent Sen. Bernie Sanders have continued to make the case for $1,200 checks.
Democrats are also unhappy over reports that the latest proposal for $600 payments might still come at the expense of some amount of unemployment benefits.
The final shape of what both parties are likely to agree on is starting to emerge, with a price tag of about $900 billion. According to the Associated Press, this could include:
- $300 billion in support for businesses, in another round of loans
- $600 payments to most and a $300 weekly increase to unemployment benefits
- $25 billion to help renters
- $10 billion for the US Postal Service
Likely to be left by the wayside is about $160 billion to help state and local governments – a Democratic wish – and pandemic liability protections for businesses that the GOP has pushed for.
Negotiations on the relief package are going down to the wire, with a Friday deadline looming to avert a government shutdown. This could be extended.
Negotiators had hoped to strike a deal after two in-person meetings on Wednesday, but they left that night without a final agreement.
“We’re still close, and we’re going to get there,” McConnell said as he left negotiations, according to the AP.
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