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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks with reporters in the Senate subway on Tuesday, December 8, 2020.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks with reporters in the Senate subway on Tuesday, December 8, 2020. (Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Sanders Says Congress 'Cannot Go Home for Christmas Holidays' Without Delivering $1,200 Direct Payments

"Congress should be working 24 hours, seven days a week until we pass a bill that provides emergency assistance to the American people in their time of need."

Jake Johnson

Making clear that he is opposed to the latest iteration of a bipartisan coronavirus relief bill making the rounds on Capitol Hill, Sen. Bernie Sanders on Monday said he remains committed to doing everything in his power to ensure Congress does not leave town for holiday recess without passing legislation containing direct payments to struggling Americans.

"As a result of the pandemic, tens of millions of Americans are facing economic desperation," the Vermont senator said in a statement Monday, just ahead of the release of the newly updated the compromise package. "They can't afford to pay their rent and face eviction, they can't afford to go to the doctor, they can't afford to feed their children and they are going deeper and deeper into debt."

"What kind of negotiation is it when you go from $3.4 trillion [in the House-passed HEROES Act] to $188 billion in new money? That is not a negotiation. That is a collapse."
—Sen. Bernie Sanders

"Congress cannot go home for the Christmas holidays until we pass legislation which provides a $1,200 direct payment to working class adults, $2,400 for couples, and a $500 payment to their children," Sanders continued. "This is what Democrats and Republicans did unanimously in March through the CARES Act. This is what we have to do today."

Led by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Mitt Romney (R-Utah.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), and others, the bipartisan group is set Monday to unveil their coronavirus relief proposal in two parts, neither of which contains the direct stimulus checks that Sanders, dozens of Democrats in the House and Senate, and Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) are demanding.

The Washington Post reported Monday that "the first bill to be released by the bipartisan group is a $748 billion package that includes new unemployment benefits, small business aid, and other programs that received broad bipartisan support," including funding for vaccine distribution efforts and education. The first bill only includes $188 billion in new spending, with the rest coming from unused CARES Act funds.

"What a cruel joke," Warren Gunnels, Sanders' staff director, tweeted in response to the updated bipartisan plan.

The second bill, according to the Post, "is a roughly $160 billion package that would include liability protection for businesses and state and local aid. This measure proved much more divisive for negotiators, and the liability shield has been broadly opposed by most Democrats."

"Some lawmakers in the bipartisan group have suggested including another round of stimulus checks in the $740 billion proposal that excludes both the liability shield and state and local funding," the Post reported. "Republicans have sought to keep the price-tag of the bill below $1 trillion, but if state aid is left out then lawmakers may have enough money available to include the checks. The bipartisan group has circulated various options for structuring the checks, but have remained divided on the issue and failed to reach an agreement."

In a letter with five of his Senate Democratic colleagues last week, Sanders demanded that $1,200 direct payments for adults and $500 for children be included instead of the liability protections for corporations, which the senators denounced as a "get-out-of-jail-free card to companies that put the lives of their workers and customers at risk."

Last Friday, as Common Dreams reported, Sanders and Hawley introduced an amendment that would provide direct payments to working class Americans and threatened to hold up a must-pass, stop-gap government funding bill in order to force a vote on the stimulus checks.

Sanders ultimately opted not to try to block the spending measure last week, and the legislation passed the Senate on Friday. But with the government set to shut down this coming Friday without passage of another spending bill, the Vermont senator said he is willing to stand in the way in his fight for direct payments.

"I am prepared to withdraw my objection at this moment," Sanders told reporters last week. "I will not be prepared to withdraw an objection next week. We will deal with the financial crisis facing tens of millions of Americans."

In an interview with Politico on Monday, Sanders said he has privately urged Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)—who has characterized the bipartisan relief framework as "the only game in town"—to reject the bipartisan group's latest offer, describing the proposal as "totally inadequate" to meet the needs of sick, hungry, and eviction-prone Americans.

"What kind of negotiation is it when you go from $3.4 trillion [in the House-passed HEROES Act] to $188 billion in new money? That is not a negotiation. That is a collapse," Sanders said. "We cannot go home until there [are] strong unemployment benefits plus $1,200 per adult, $500 per kid for every working person and family in this country."

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